After what can only be described as a disappointing performance in Sweden this past weekend, the Wings return to the friendly confines of JLA to host the Blackhaws in the first home game of the season. Though the Blackhawks will be without newly minted public enemy no. 1 Marian Hossa until November, they still feature a potent offense that has been quite impressive so far in this young season.
Red Wings offense v. Blackhaws defense:
The Wings haven't exactly been anemic offensively thus far, but there are facets of the offense that need some major work. The powerplay (2-10 through two games) has once again disappointed, and the Wings have indicated they'll work on this coming into the game against Chicago. It is likely that the powerplay will be a big factor in this game. The Hawks are trying to play a more puck possession type game (essentially mirroring the Wings), and what with the Wings also trying to play puck possession this could turn into a game that's determined on the PP. The Hawks defensemen are good puck movers and are pretty mobile defensemen, so the Wings will need to be careful on the forecheck not to get caught out of position. With that having been said, the Wings offense is still a better unit than the Hawks defense. The Hawks defense, while serviceable, is not yet an elite unit while the Wings have two elite lines and two very good lines.
Advantage: Wings offense
Blackhaws offense v. Wings defense:
The Blackhawks essentially play like a bunch of over-caffeinated monkeys: they play uber up-tempo, for better or for worse. Granted, I've never seen over-caffeinated monkeys play hockey, but if I did I'm pretty sure it would resemble the Blackhawks. Perhaps the biggest story of the game is that the Hawks will be without turncoat Marian Hossa. This really shouldn't have much impact on the game, as Wings fans saw in the playoffs how well Hossa plays against previous teams (i.e. he pulls a disappearing act). Having said that, the real concern for the Wings is containing the Hawks super young superstars Toews and Kane. Luckily, the Wings have two tremendous d-pairings to match up with Toews and Kane whenever their lines are on the ice. I'd expect Lidstrom and Rafalski to shadow Kane and Kronwall or Stuart to shaow Toews. The biggest mismatch is probably with the Hawks second line and the Wings second defense pairing. Kronwall and Stuart are very physical but are questionably mobile, while Toews and linemate Patrick Sharp are very quick and shifty scorers. If Kroner and Stuart can rub the Toews line off the puck then the Wings should be in good shape, but if the defense is overly physical they could end up getting burned.
Advantage: Hawks offense
Shaky at best in Sweden, the Wings will look to regroup on Thursday. Osgood will likely get the start here after only playing one of the first two games of the season. He's vowed not to repeat last year's lackluster regular season, and one game isn't enough to pass judgment on. There's no reason not to believe in Ozzie at this point.
Cristobal Huet assumes the number one starter spot after Khabibulin departed this offseason. The Wings have seen him many times before, so there really shouldn't be any surprises here. Huet has played well enough thus far. How he'll fare against the Wings is largely a product of how well the Hawks can keep the Wings out of their own zone
Very well thought out, totally analytical score prediction:
Wings 3 -- Hawks 2