And so it begins anew. Not so much the Original Six rivalry that mostly evaporated prior to the Wings finally getting their wish and moving to the Eastern Conference, but more the lamentation of that move and the longing for a rivalry that never really lived up to its own billing in the last 25 years in the first place save for a couple of blips on the radar, and one very emphatic punctuation mark ending it in 2013. Now, a visit to Detroit is just another date on the calendar, and the only time the Hawks will visit the husk of the Joe this year.
The Wings enter tonight 7-3-5, which puts them dead in the middle of a mediocre Eastern Conference. They’ve done so in spite of fairly common problems for their teams of recent vintage, most notably being old and hurt. Pavel Datsyuk, who somehow manages to be hockey’s darling despite deferring to a pretty strong anti-gay stance last year, has only played in eight games, and Johan “Equine Genetic Experiment Gone Awry” Franzen nine. Fortunately for them Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyqvist have been keeping things afloat for Scum, with Z at better than a point a game at 16 (4G, 12A), and Nyqvist still shooting an absurd 23.6%, good for a team best eight goals. Mike Babcock has tried to infuse a bit more overripened youth into the forward corps with the likes of Riley “Drunken TeleTubby” Sheahan and Tomases Tatar and Jurco, but the results have been inconsistent as one might expect. The Wings are in the middle-bottom of the pack in scoring with 2.7 per game, but are fourth in the league in their possession rate with a 53.64% Corsi share 5v5. Sound a bit familiar?
On the blue line, Scum is still searching for a right handed defenseman for the second straight year, and they’re still counting on Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson to provide top pairing. They’re taking the most difficult zone starts and competition for Scum and breaking about even, which is what Babs will take when he has to rely on Kyle Quincey, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, and Danny Dekeyser further down the depth chart. All are on the plus side of the possession ledger, but all also have been known to have brain farts in coverage in the defensive zone and Scum has been lucky most of the play has been in the other end at evens to this point in the season.
When it hasn’t been, Jimmy Howard has been his usual above average self at face value, but there is a dangerous statistical anomaly lurking beneath the surface that should concern the Scum fanbase. Howard’s overall save percentage is currently .923, but it’s only .918 at even strength, while an absolutely comically unsustainable .949 while shorthanded. It’s the primary reason why the Wings are second in the league in penalty kill percentage at 88.7 while being the 7th worst in the league at the number of shot attempts surrendered while short handed. So as soon as that save percentage comes back down to earth, the ass of the Red Wings’ season will fall right off unless they can begin to score goals at the other end to counterbalance it, and given the age and health concerns of their primary point producers that might not be the wisest thing to bank on.
As for our Men of Four Feathers it’s more or less the status quo, whatever that even means with Joel Quenneville’s lineup choices, particularly after Johnny Oduya left Tuesday’s game early. Oduya will play tonight, but it’s anyone’s guess who his partner will be as there was no clear indication during the morning skate. Oduya was last seen paired with Brent Seabrook, but it’s probably safer to assume that he’ll be back with Hjalmarsson at least to start. It did appear however that David Rundblad will get back into the lineup tonight, presumably to deal a little better with some of the speed of the Scum forward corps better than Michal Rozsival, though that does unfortunately rob Rozy of auditioning to be the right-shooting defenseman of Ken Holland’s dreams. And Corey Crawford will start his seventh straight behind this unit.
Among the forward corps the lineup will be the same as it was entering into the San Jose game, with Andrew Shaw reassuming his rightful throne as #2 Center between Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell. Those two wingers did manage about 58 2 on 1s in the early going of the San Jose game when they quickly figured out that they needed to bypass their out of position centerman on breakouts and just lug the puck themselves, so perhaps the best way to hide Shaw’s well-documented struggles is just to ignore him. And with Gorilla Salad’s return now imminent, it’s highly suggested that Jeremy Morin find the score sheet in some way, shape, or form if he wants to see the ice again in a Hawks uniform before early March. He’s gotten enough looks and Brad Richards will certainly get him the puck, it’s time to cash in.
While this certainly isn’t a rivalry blood feud or a juggernaut matchup of title contenders, these are two teams who want to play the same type of clean, heady hockey even in spite of a few of Q’s lineup choices. These teams are currently mirror images of each other in a lot of respects, but the Hawks have produce a significantly higher volume of opportunities at even strength than anyone Scum has seen so far this season, and they’ll have to considering how hot Howard has been on the penalty kill. Let’s go Hawks.