NBC Game of the Week: Blackhawks vs. Red Wings

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Chicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Red Wings
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 7, 2010
Live on NBC

It’s a battle of the new versus the old this week on NBC, as the Detroit Red Wings travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks. Detroit has long stood on top of the Western Conference and have not lost a division title since the 1999-2000 season. This year, it appears that not only will Chicago finally overtake the Red Wings for tops in the division, but Detroit may face the possibility of not making the playoffs.

Just two points back of #1 seed San Jose, the Hawks are hoping to get back into top playing form after weeks of just barely finding ways to win. The young and speedy team has the talent to overcome most mistakes now, but when the pressure is on in the playoffs they’ll need to play much better hockey in order to get to their ultimate goal.

On the other side, an older and injury-plagued Detroit team found itself mired in the dredges at the bottom of the conference before a wild January pushed them back up the standings. Yet some stumbles heading into the break put their playoff chances in doubt, and while a nice win on the first game back from the Olympics pushed them into 8th spot Wednesday’s shellacking at the hands of Vancouver cast questions once again on Detroit’s chances.

After the jump, we take a look at the season series so far, tease the major storylines of the game, and examine what the local press are saying about these two teams.


Huet.jpgAs the Blackhawks have rebuilt over the past few years, the Red Wings have not only owned the division but the season series against Chicago as well. This season, just as with the overall standings, the roles have been reversed.

Chicago is 3-1-0 against Detroit this season (one win coming in a shootout), including back to back 3-0 shutouts of the Wings in a home and home series in December. Not surprisingly, the Blackhawks are scoring at a much higher clip than Detroit (3.20 goals/game to 2.59).

Yet Detroit and Chicago are nearly neck and neck on the power play, with Chicago 7th in the NHL (19.7%) and Detroit 10th (19.1%). The difference in special teams comes on the penalty kill where Chicago is near the top of the pack while Detroit sits at 15th.

It would seem that Detroit has the best chance to keep up with the more talented teams in the NHL when they are given time on special teams, as their 5-on-5 goals against ratio (0.88) is 25th in the league. The key to beating Detroit then, is to stay out of the penalty box and force them to play at even strength, where they are far from their best.

Before these two teams face off on Sunday, they’ll both play tonight. Chicago will take on Vancouver, where they hope to get back on track as they start the run to the playoffs. The Hawks won on Wednesday night yet allowed two goals on 14 shots, giving more credence to the main issue surrounding this team: the goaltending. But nothing is going to change now.

“This is our team now and we know nothing is going to
change,” Toews said. “We’re happy about that and we can get comfortable
and concentrate on the last 20 games.”

While the goaltending of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi
was under the microscope leading up to the trade deadline, the Hawks’
all-around team defensive play has slipped in the last month.

“Our goaltenders are the ones taking the heat, but we
need to play better in front of them,” Toews said.

“Our goaltending has been fine,” Quenneville said.
“We’ve given up more goals over this recent stretch and I think
collectively we should all feel some responsibility to improve that
area. It’s something we’re going to stress going into now and through
the stretch run.”

On the other side, the Red Wings are not giving any excuses for the rough season so far.

“For a
long time this year we had so many injuries that we just battled to
stay alive,” he said. “We don’t now. There’s no reason for us not to be
a good hockey club. So will and determination, leadership and coaching,
all these things, you look at them and you can’t give them a very good
mark.”

Perhaps they thought everything would be fine and back to
normal after the Olympic break, when virtually everyone was healthy.

“I
hope
that’s not the case,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We can’t have it that
way. You can’t just look at the guy sitting next to you and (think),
‘Now he’s back, he’s going to do it all.’ We have to look ourselves in
the mirror and do whatever you can to help this team win. We all have
to play at our highest level to be able to pull this through.”

It looked as if the Red Wings were back on track on Monday night with a big win over Colorado, but the bad loss to Vancouver has put the pressure right back on. With teams in the West grouped so tightly towards the bottom of the standings (Detroit has just a 2 point lead on 13th place Minnesota) every win becomes much more important.

NBC Star Cam – Follow Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk with NBC’s Star Cam. Head on over to NBC Sports during the game to follow your favorite stars through out the game.

Sunday on Pro Hockey Talk:

  • Have the Detroit Red Wings missed their window at another Cup win?
  • Will the Blackhawks’ goaltending situation keep them from getting to the Stanley Cup finals?
  • Injury updates for both teams
  • News and opinion from around NBC Sports
  • A live in-game chat with Brandon Worley and James O’Brien

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The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski