Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser (65) steals the puck from Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) in the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

NHL on NBCSN: Detroit pumped to face Chicago


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Red Wings and Blackhawks were battling for supremacy in the Central Division. Now the two aren’t even in the same conference and while Chicago remains one of the best teams in the league, Detroit is a squad in transition, trying to rebuild while still somehow extending the 22-season playoff appearance streak.

That might not be such a daunting task for the Red Wings if they were anywhere close to 100 percent, but they’re not. They’re missing their two best forwards in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

By comparison, Chicago only had one significant void in its lineup due to the absence of Marian Hossa (upper body) and it looks like even he’s probable for tonight’s game, per If he returns, Chicago will enter the game with six players that have recorded over 40 points in 2013-14. Detroit will start the contest with none.

Even with the odds so heavily stacked against them, a game against the Blackhawks might do Detroit some good.

“We’re always fired up to play them,” Gustav Nyquist told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s a good rivalry.

“You know they’re a great team, they’ve been good for a few years now, so it’s going to be a challenge but we’re looking forward to coming into their building, it’s a fun building to play in.”

While the Red Wings are trying to claw their way into the playoffs, this game isn’t devoid of meaning for the Blackhawks. It’s a given that they’ll advance to the postseason, but they still have a legitimate shot at second place in the Central Division. The only problem is they’re going through a bit of a slump after dropping their last two games and five of their last eight.

“The last couple of (losses) were definitely winnable hockey games. Those are the games that bother us, me more than anybody. We didn’t play the right way to give us a chance to win,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago. Forward Patrick Sharp added that they’ve been falling victim to preventable mistakes.

Just as this match between old rivals might spark Detroit, this could be what Chicago needs to get back on track. One thing is a safe bet: these two points will be hotly contested.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado