Morning Skate: Central Division Showdown

"So, Stuie, are you free for MLK Day?"

There used to be a time where a game within the Central Division was seen as no big deal for Wing fans. The rest of the teams within the division were pretty much a joke, and it was assumed that the Wings would escape with an easy 2 points while looking forward to an opponent that would be considered "worthy".

However, times have changed, and there is now a strong argument that the Central is the league's toughest division. Consider that 3 of the top 4 teams in the West by points percentage reside in the Central.

Perhaps no team has risen further within the division than tonight's opponent, the Blackhawks. Long one of the doormats, years of crappiness allowed them to build up their talent, and the death of Bill Wirtz loosened the purse strings so the Hawks could spend to gather the complementary pieces. It all paid off 2 short years ago when they captured the Stanley Cup, and currently lead the NHL with 50 points.

With the Wings heading to Chicago to take on the Hawks, this is yet another game where the Wings can show us what they are all about. One of the biggest issues with the Wings this year has been their inconsistency. A victory tonight doesn't just get the Wings to within a point of the Hawks while maintaining their game-in-hand. It's also a chance to show us that they are still one of the elites of the league. A loss isn't the end of the world, but it could be confirmation that this roster as currently constituted may not be good enough to win a Cup.

We've characterized the Hawks as "little brother" to the Wings. It's not necessarily used as an insult; it's really about them trying to follow in the footsteps of Detroit, the preeminent franchise of the last 20 years. The Wings are the standard that everyone tries to emulate, and the Hawks have taken great pains to get there, going so far as to adopt the Wing's style of play.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; who knew the Blackhawks were such kiss-asses.

Second City Hockey is your Blackhawks' SB Nation blog, and it's a good group over there, so check them out. Puck drop is a little after 8:30 PM ET.

The Expected Line Up

Johan Franzen -- Pavel Datsyuk -- Todd Bertuzzi

Valtteri Filppula -- Henrik Zetterberg -- Jiri Hudler

Danny Cleary -- Gustav Nyquist -- Drew Miller

Cory Emmerton -- Justin Abdelkader -- Joakim Andersson

*

Nicklas Lidstrom -- Ian White

Brad Stuart -- Niklas Kronwall

Jonathan Ericsson - Mike Commodore/Jakub Kindl

*

Jimmy Howard (starting)

Ty Conklin

Injuries: Jan Mursak (ankle), Patrick Eaves (jaw), Chris Conner (hand), Darren Helm (groin) and Tomas Holmstrom (groin)

RED WINGS HOW THEY MATCH UP BLACKHAWKS
23-12-1 (47 pts) Record 23-10-4 (50 pts)
3.25 (4th) Goals Per Game 3.19 (5th)
2.25 (5th) Goals Against Per Game 2.76 (15th)
20.1% (4th) Power Play % 19.3% (10th)
80.6% (23rd) Penalty Kill % 79.0% (27th)
Johan Franzen (14 goals) Goal Leader Jonathan Toews (20 goals)
Pavel Datsyuk (38 points) Points Leader Marian Hossa (40 points)

  • The Red Wings are 361-261-84-9 all-time against the Blackhawks. They have played more games against the Hawks than against any other franchise.
  • If either team takes a penalty, the odds on a power play goal being scored are 2-1. Both teams have good power plays while having poor penalty kills. The absence of Darren Helm means the Wings' penalty kill could be hurt even further.
  • These teams are evenly matched, except defensively, where the Wings give up half a goal less than the Hawks per game. It's the only big advantage the Wings have over the Hawks.
  • The Hawks are red-hot, having gone 9-2-1 in the month of December. The Wings are 8-5-0 in December, with all 5 losses coming on the road.
  • Interesting note: 33 of the Wings' 36 games this season have ended after 60 minutes. The Wings are 2-1-0 in extra time.
  • The Hawks went 4-2 against the Wings last season, but the two Wings' wins were big ones: opening night when the Hawks raised their banner, and the final game of the season when the Hawks were a Dallas win away from missing the playoffs.
Prediction: This is going to be a really good game. These are two very good teams vying for divisional supremacy, and both play a high-tempo, skilled game. The Wings continue Divisional Hate Week with a hard-fought 4-3 victory, and Pavel Datsyuk is your player of the game.

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