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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Skinner leaves game after leg injury, makes third period return

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For a second there, it looked horrible.

Jeff Skinner, writhing in pain on the ice after a gruesome-looking leg injury and having to be helped off the ice by teammates and then helped down the tunnel by trainers, seemed to be in bad shape.

The 26-year-old got tangled up with newly-acquired Washington Capitals forward Carl Hagelin during the second period of Saturday’s game.

Hagelin got his stick between Skinner’s shin pads and the latter’s left skate picked into the ice, twisting his ankle in ways it should not.

Skinner was in obvious pain as soon as he hit the deck, at one point trying to push with his right leg toward the Sabres bench.

He missed the rest of the second period but remarkably, given the video you just watched, returned for the third, much to the surprise of everyone.

Skinner laughed when he told Buffalo News Sports’ Lance Lysowki that the team has good training staff. Skinner said he felt pain immediately after the play but was fine once he got to the room to test it.

“There’s a lot of things that go through your mind,” Skinner said. “At first you’re just wondering what’s wrong with it. …The tests went pretty well and I was able to come back.”

Skinner has been a godsend for the Sabres with 36 goals, just one off his career-high set two seasons ago when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres splashed for Skinner in the offseason and he’s been worth every penny in the final year of his six-year, $34.350 million contract.

The Sabres sit seven points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference and had just three wins in their past 10 games heading into Saturday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Oilers’ CEO not a fan of Connor McDavid suspension

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The Edmonton Oilers are none too pleased with the National Hockey League’s decision to suspend Connor McDavid two games for his headshot on New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy on Thursday night.

Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson defended McDavid during a meeting with the media on Saturday before the team took to the ice for their pre-game skate.

“We’re really disappointed with the NHL’s decision,” Nicholson said. “This is a first-time offense for Connor. Everyone knows Connor is a skilled player and I thought he did a very good job explaining what he was doing before there was contact with Leddy.”

The hit in question took place at the 17:32 mark of the first period. McDavid was handed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head on the play. Leddy stayed down for a bit and was summoned for concussion testing but returned for the second period and played out the rest of the game.

McDavid went on to score the overtime winner in a 4-3 win.

Nicholson said McDavid’s intent heading into the hit was to strip the puck from Leddy and when he realized he couldn’t do that, became small and didn’t try to level Leddy.

Nicholson then argued the hit’s principle point of contact (although it clearly was) wasn’t the head.

“I thought the contact started at the chest and there was a deflection into the head but it was a slight deflection into the head,” Nicholson said.

McDavid figured he wouldn’t be suspended prior to the hearing and figured he raised some good points about the hit, but said that once he heard the tone of the voice once in the meeting, he knew that wouldn’t be the case.

“I think a lot of times, you go in and they already have their mind made up,” McDavid said. “They don’t really care what you have to say.”

McDavid said it’s frustrating given that it’s a crucial time for the Oilers. Edmonton sits eight points back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard in the Western Conference heading into Saturday’s action. The Oilers battle the Ducks later on in the day, who are one point ahead of them in the standings. Edmonton needs to leapfrog six teams over their next 22 games to head to the playoffs.

Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said he feels McDavid deserved better but said the team can’t worry about it right now.

“We just have to keep going,” Hitchcock said. “Fighting the fight isn’t going to do us any good right now.

What goes on, suspension-wise, I’m even sure I know all the rules, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said.

McDavid was non-committal on appealing the decision. Nicholson said he didn’t think McDavid would.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stars acquire defenseman Lovejoy in trade with Devils

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DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Stars acquired veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

The Stars sent defenseman Connor Carrick and a 2019 third-round draft pick to the Devils in the deal reached two days before the NHL’s trade deadline.

Lovejoy is an 11-year veteran and defensive specialist who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016. He was second on the Devils with 77 blocked shots while playing a key penalty-killing role. He has two goals and seven points in 51 games this season and 20 goals and 99 points in 524 career games.

General manager Jim Nill called Lovejoy ”an experienced, battle-tested player who has a track record of performing in meaningful late-season games.”

With Marc Methot out after season-ending knee surgery last month and Stephen Johns (neck/head) having not played this season, Lovejoy is a boost to the Dallas defense. The Stars reacquired defenseman Jamie Oleksiak from Pittsburgh in a trade last month.

The trade comes with Dallas seeking to keep pace in the congested Western Conference playoff race in which five points separate the seventh-place Stars and 12th-place Vancouver.

Dallas was 2-4-1 in its past seven games going into Saturday’s home game against Carolina. The Stars were coming off a 5-2 win Thursday over St. Louis that snapped a franchise-record 11-game winning streak by the Blues.

New Jersey was 14th in the 16-team Eastern Conference.

The 24-year-old Carrick had a goal and four points in 14 games with the Stars this season.

Lovejoy was a healthy scratch when the Devils played Thursday against Ottawa. Lovejoy had a plus-one rating in his 51 games, one of only two New Jersey’s regulars in the positive.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Innovations allow NHL to stage outdoor games almost anywhere

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Dan Craig sleeps maybe four hours a night leading up to outdoor games. He only goes out to dinner because he can check the status of the ice on his phone.

”Your mind’s always going,” said Craig, the NHL’s vice president of facilities operations.

After staging outdoor games in a deep freeze (Edmonton) and summerlike warmth (Los Angeles), the NHL seems capable of taking hockey outside just about anywhere in the U.S. and Canada knowing the ice will be almost as good as the sheets found inside.

When the Flyers host the Penguins on Saturday night, it will be the 27th NHL outdoor game since 2003. Next season’s Winter Classic is at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where the average high on Jan. 1 is 56 degrees (13.3 Celsius).

No worries, hockey fans.

”We put the parameters out there as into what we feel the challenges are going to be at a certain climate in a certain area and this is what we’re going to run up against,” said Craig, who has worked all but two outdoor games. ”And if we have to go to get different equipment, we go get different equipment. If we need more staff, we just go get more qualified people to come in and give us a hand to make sure that everything works the way it’s supposed to.”

Weather is the biggest hurdle that can’t be controlled. It is instead managed by Craig, his son Mike, senior facilities operations manager Derek King and the 100-person crews that work each game. As he sat on the boards Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field, Craig pointed to the sky and acknowledged the swirling wind was on his mind.

Still, improved technology and techniques learned over the past 15 years have helped perfect the science and execution of making and maintaining outdoor ice.

”It seems like they’ve streamlined the process so they know how to react and how to handle different elements,” said Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk, a veteran of five outdoor games. ”For the last few that I’ve been in, it’s all been pretty good. … If you can start with that, that leads to a better product in the game.”

It starts with a 53-foot refrigeration truck that feeds coolant into aluminum trays set up on the field, and while indoor facilities have ice typically an inch or so deep, outdoor rinks go beyond 2 inches to protect the surface from the elements. Smaller Zambonis have less impact on the ice, and covering the surface with heat-reflecting insulation tarps helps. The ice can be monitored with sensors that provide real-time readings to a smartphone app.

The ideal ice temperature is 22 degrees (-5.5 Celsius), but all was fine in Denver in 2016 when the air temperature was 65 (18.3 Celsius) because officials can just turn the A/C up.

”When we’re monitoring the air temperature we’ll just make the sheet colder,” King said. ”If we can keep it in the in the mid-40s, it would be great. But we’ve got a lot of control. … We have a lot of control of the truck, so we can manipulate our temperatures on the sheet with the air temperature.”

Craig remembers the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor: The snow shoveling started at 5 a.m. and never really stopped. The sun has been just as big an impediment – it delayed the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia because the glare was considered a danger to players. The ice at the 2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary had to be covered because it was so cold there were worries the surface would crack, the most concerned Craig has ever been.

The tarps with air bubbles inside became a mainstay beginning in 2014 at Dodger Stadium to combat the Southern California sun as temperatures soared to almost 80 (26.7 Celsius) in the days before the game.

”Sun was a huge issue for us in just the temperature on the ice, so we kind of came up with a system of how to cover the ice and reflect that sun,” King said. ”We still use those same ideas anywhere we go.”

The Dodger Stadium experience showed the NHL’s ice crew it could adapt to just about any situation. Previous weather dilemmas also taught Craig and his staff they couldn’t just leave snow on the ice like so many nature-made rinks in cold climates, which paid dividends this week in Philadelphia when snow turned to sleet and then rain.

”Everybody’s looking at us like, ‘Why don’t you just leave the snow?’ Well, it’s going to cause us 18 hours of work if we don’t get the snow off, like, right now,” Craig said. ”(If) it happened to rain, the top is going to freeze and then the bottom is going to be nice and soft. Well, no. Where we were, it just goes all the way through and then it freezes to the bottom. Those are the types of things that we have learned over time: how to manage the different circumstances that were put into.”

There are three more outdoor games next season – in Regina, Saskatchewan, Dallas and the Air Force Academy in Colorado – and trips to Nashville and maybe even Las Vegas could be coming someday.

Craig doesn’t see any challenge as too daunting and he is focused on giving players an unforgettable experience.

”They step out there for the first time and they do about three laps around and the grins and their eyes are just phenomenal,” he said. ”They’ve always been in organized hockey, they’ve always been indoors, they’ve always traveled and all of a sudden they get their chance. That’s when you see the guys and you just see them, they’re beaming because this the first time, they’re getting paid for it, they’re playing a game that they love and they’re playing it outdoors where we started.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno