CHICAGO -- Who says the NHL schedule makers don’t have a flair for the dramatic?
With nearly half the year gone, the two Western Conference powerhouses will meet with three points (50 to 47) separating them in a tight division.
“It’s kind of fitting we play them at this time of year where we’re both at the top of the standings and have something to play for,” Patrick Kane said Thursday after practice.
And it doesn’t hurt the game is on the first night of a long holiday weekend. In other words, the United Center should be rocking like for no other game this season.
“We have them a lot coming up,” Joel Quenneville said of Wings’ matches. “It seems like divisional opponents come in bunches with certain teams. They have a lot of good things about their team that make them one of our top teams in the league.”
The Hawks will host Detroit again on Jan. 8 and play in Motor City on Jan. 14. That’s three games in eight against arguably their most bitter rivals. (Vancouver might have a say in that debate as well.)
“Over the years Detroit has been the No. 1 rival,” Patrick Sharp said. “In the early goings they beat up on us a lot. They’re a team, I don’t want to say, we look up to but model ourselves after. When Duncs, Seabs, Kane, Toews and I first started we were getting beat 6-1 every time we played those guys. There probably is a little more dislike against Vancouver just because of the playoff series and the personal head to head matches. But its two great rivalries.”
Sharp is right about the Hawks modeling themselves after the Wings. Both are puck-possession oriented organizations, thus both are less concerned with a physical style of play and more interested in making the other team chase them.
The Hawks have to be worried about momentum shifts. No team can put up a barrage of goals in a short period of time like the Wings. They’ve been doing it for years -- think Winter Classic -- and just beat St. Louis on Tuesday with three unanswered tallies after getting down 2-0. The final two goals were scored 56 seconds apart.
Either way, Friday should be a fun night to be a part of.
“I know the fans love it,” Kane said. “It’ll be Friday night, late December. There should be a pretty rowdy crowd so it will be fun to play in front of them.”
It’s a little less newsworthy than a few months ago but Kane is back at center and this time not necessarily just for a period. He practiced in between Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg on Thursday and if recent evidence means anything, it might be the right move.
“The last two times I went to center it seemed like we had a little bit more balance,” Kane said. “Once in Pittsburgh and once last night. We’ve had some good periods, had some pressure in their end and had some chances. I’m excited.”
Maybe he’s excited because he simply hasn’t been as noticeable at wing like he was when at center for the first 24 games. Think about it. The magic between Jonathan Toews and Kane wasn’t, well, as magical this time around. Maybe they missed a true top line winger on the other side or maybe Kane does need to play center to get the puck more.
"At center you’re always moving, you’re always low and you’re always supporting not only the forwards but the defensemen as well," Kane said. "You are an out for the defensemen a lot of times to give you the puck and skate up the ice. I have no problem with that. One of the strengths of my game is having the puck and making plays."
And Kane feeding two hot wingers in Sharp and Stalberg seems like a good idea. Put the best playmaker with two of the best scorers at the moment.
Now the question is whether Dan Carcillo is the right man for the job on the top line with Toews and Marian Hossa. Carcillo is coming off a six game absence due to a concussion. Is he ready?
He thinks so but Quenneville is hedging his bets.
“We’ll see if it’s going to stay like that but it’s certainly a good opportunity to get [him] back in there,” Quenneville said.
It’s apples and oranges but Quenneville inserted Jeremy Morin on the Hawks top line after he came back from serving a three game suspension in the minors and it didn’t work out. Of course Morin doesn’t have nearly the experience Carcillo has but the point is, there is no getting your feet wet when it comes to skating with the Hawks top players. Carcillo better be ready after missing so much game action.
Jimmy Hayes says he’s ready and it’s quite the spot for him to make his NHL debut. The bruising power forward was recalled just in time for a taste of the Hawks and Wings rivalry. Joel Quenneville said he’s been part of the discussion in terms of recalls from Rockford and now he’s getting his chance due to their desire to move Kane back at center.
Hayes, Jamal Mayers and Andrew Brunette will make up the fourth line. Brunette might be done with tries on the top two lines. He’s had two chances at it -- an extended one to start the season and a couple games recently—and it just hasn’t worked out. In fact, he’s been pretty good in his fourth line role/power play specialist. Quenneville should just leave him there.
“He’s really deceiving, even throwing some of those counter hits. I’ve tried to do it one or two times and he’s always got me. He’s got great hands, great vision, great skill. There’s nothing much more to say about him. He’s a great player,” -- Dave Bolland, on Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk.