Among the universal truths that exist in hockey are these three: fans who bang on the glass at ice level should be permanently barred from those seats forever, the shootout is an awful way to end a hockey game, and the Blackhawks and Red Wings belong in the same division.
A pandemic-induced realignment of the NHL divisions fixed the latter of those problems for this season and the two rivals in the new Central Division will faceoff at a fan-free United Center this evening.
Detroit is coming off of a galactically terrible ‘19-20 regular season that saw the Red Wings amass just 39 points in 71 games. The reward for all that futility? A losing ticket in the 2020 NHL Draft lottery that dropped Detroit out of the top three picks to number four, where left wing Lucas Raymond was added to the organization. See, folks: being really bad at hockey for a season doesn’t always work out exactly as planned.
But in a small sample size this season, the Red Wings appear improved enough to emerge from the depths of the NHL dungeon. Dylan Larkin continues to grow into a No. 1 center and he’s been sharing the top-line role with Vladislav Namestnikov and Filip Zadina, Detroit’s No. 6 overall pick from 2018. But the player who’s been a revelation in his first three games with Detroit is Bobby Ryan, who already has four goals. Other youngsters playing significant roles in Detroit include forward Tyler Bertuzzi (25 years old), forward Anthony Mantha (26) and defenseman Filip Hronek (23). The one position with the most veteran presence is in net with the duo of Jonathan Bernier (32) and Thomas Greiss (35), who’ve both fared better than the now-departed Jimmy Howard did last season (2-23-2 record, .882 save percentage, 4.20 goals-against average).
The Red Wings will be shorthanded in this game, though, with four players on the NHL’s COVID Protocol list: defenseman Jon Merrill and forwards Sam Gagner, Adam Erne and Robby Fabbri.
For the Blackhawks, a pair of days off following Tuesday’s defeat in Florida allowed for time to recuperate back home in Chicago but that doesn’t appear to have yielded any lineup changes, based on Thursday’s practice lines.
Blackhawks' lines and pairs in practice today, same as Tuesday:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 21, 2021
Subban & Lankinen
Although Carl Soderberg is now practicing with the team, it’ll take him a few more days to get up to game speed and thus his debut will not occur this evening. In net, it appears that either Malcolm Subban or Kevin Lankinen will be the starter, although Colliton likely won’t say that out loud if prior pregames are any indication.
As was discussed on the Musings on Madison podcast recently, it’s foolish to label any game this season a “must-win” because of the long-term goals associated with Chicago’s current organizational direction. However, after losing four to open the season, it feels like the Blackhawks need to win one of these two games against Detroit, just for their collective psyche and for the mental health of everyone in and around the organization. An 0-3-1 start has been disappointing enough, but adding two more losses to that record with the Red Wings delivering them seems a burden too much to carry. Whether it’s Friday evening or Sunday afternoon, the Blackhawks need two points from one of these games.
Let’s go Hawks.
Tale of the tape (statistics from last season)
Blackhawks — Statistic — Red Wings
48.45% (22nd) — Corsi For — 45.99% (31st)
46.93% (27th) — Expected goals for — 44.40 (30th)
2.97 (18th) — Goals per game — 2.00 (31st)
3.06 (16th) — Goals against per game — 3.73 (31st)
49.9% (17th) — Faceoffs — 49.5% (20th)
15.2% (28th) — Power play — 14.9% (29th)
82.1% (9th) — Penalty kill — 74.3% (31st)
DeBrincat — Suter — Kane
Kubalik — Strome — Kurashev
Janmark — Wallmark — Shaw
Highmore — Kampf — Carpenter
Keith — Murphy
de Haan — Mitchell
Zadorov — Boqvist
Namestnikov — Larkin — Zadina
Ryan — Rasmussen — Mantha
Bertuzzi — Glendening — Brome
Nielson — Filppula — (TBD with Gagner out)
Hronek — Nemeth
DeKeyser — (TBD with Merrill out)
Staal — Stecher
How to watch
When: 7 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV