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The Empire Strikes Back: Wings at Hawks Preview/Pregame Thread/Tauntaun Training

galactic_empire_emblem vs. rebel-small

FACEOFF: 6:30pm Central (The Wings bitched so much about their starting times they’re even changing ours now)


CRACK HOUSE DAILY: Winging It In Motown

Now that these only happen twice a year, and once in each city, they’ve become some sort of weird family reunion. They’re certainly an event, a chance to remember how much bile you had for the other side and how quickly it went away once Seabrook’s OT winner dented twine and the Wings were packed off to the East. Though it probably won’t take much more than one Wings fan in your section who won’t shut up to angry up the blood again.

Sadly, this is not the misfiring Ex-Scum squad that limped its way into the playoffs the past two years (even if it did nearly kneecap the Hawks because Babcock is Quenneville’s kryptonite). This is a team that’s getting some of its swagger back, and they’ve basically done it from within their own organization. That must be nice. How do you do that?

While Datsyuk and Zetterberg still sit atop their scoring leader list, the two behind them are Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Both look set to be the linchpins of the Detroit top six for a decade or more. Both are sneaky quick, impossible to get off the puck, and can conjure plays from nowhere. Beyond them, Riley Sheahan has cut out a role on the third line, Danny DeKeyser has been a revelation on the 2nd pairing, Tomas Jurco is finding his way on the 4th line, and there are more on they way (such as Teemu Pulkkinen, who might play tonight). That ignores Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin who are Wings property and probably aren’t too far away from landing in Mo-Town.

The Wings have also been helped by Stephen Weiss and Darren Helm actually halting their decomposition for a brief period of time, as both have contributed. Weiss has 19 points in just 31 games. It’s a very solid four line team.

We cannot stress enough how important it will be for the Hawks to stay out of the box tonight, even with the league’s best PK. The Wings power play has clicked at over 40% the past few weeks and is leading the league over the season by three percentage points. It is simply nuclear right now and there’s no reason to give it any more looks than you have to. It actually moves, if you can believe it.

Obviously there are still questions about the Wings. They’ve been rumored to be after any d-man who is right-handed and is breathing (which disqualifies Rozsival) since the beginning of the season and it’s unlikely they think Alexey Marchenko is going to solve everything. When you trot out Jonathan Ericcson, Brendan Smith, and Kyle Quincey every night, the odds for a complete balls-up are never that high. DeKeyser and Kronwall can only put out so many fires.

The second is always Jimmy Howard, who has never been past the second round. How much that is on him is open for debate as his playoff numbers, especially that past two years, are really good. He’s just returned from a month out, he always misses a month, and has been pretty good this year. Basically on par with Crawford.

Except he’s not asked to do as much as Crawford, as the Wings’ possession game has seen them yield the third-fewest shots per game in the league. They’re in the top five of most possession numbers, and Tatar and Datsyuk are among the best forwards in the league in that category. Shocking that a team that basically invented the possession style of play was able to produce players to help them get back to it after a couple years of decline.

For the Hawks, I would assume no lineup changes from a win on Sunday. There’s utterly no reason to bring Carcillo back, simply because he can’t keep up with any of the lines the Wings would be tossing out there tonight. But this has never stopped Q, and now you begin to see why Babcock usually uses him as a napkin in their matchups.

The Hawks cannot surrender their blue line as easily as they did on Sunday. The Pens, after scorching basically Rozsvial to the outside a few times early, were able to back the Hawks off their line and could enter the zone at will. While the fear of getting beat is there, if you give the Wings the blue line so easily you’re not going to get the puck back for a long while. Forcing them to chip and dump is not their game, even if it exposes Rozsival and Oduya and Seabrook to getting beat on the outside.

Still, even forcing the Wings to just get the puck has its challenges, because with their speed they can certainly force the Hawks D’ into the mistakes they’ve been making for months now on the breakout. But it’s the only way. Because if the Hawks can get the other way with speed, this blue line of Detroit’s does not convince quite yet.

At home, one would imagine Q does his best to get Toews away from either Zetterberg or Datsyuk, but then that leaves one of them for either Shaw or Richards and you’re not going to like that movie at all. More submission than 50 Shades, I would think. So most likely Toews’s line is used as mine-sweeper, Kruger’s line does what Toews does not, and they’ll find the goals elsewhere. Which is probably exactly what Babcock wants. Oy.

Good thing these don’t happen more than twice a season.

If you’re heading to the UC tonight we will be selling our gameday program, but only on Madison and only from about 5:30-6:15 or so, or until we can actually see the cold hand of Death. If you’re not going or don’t want to stop outside, you can get the digital version right here.

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