Hawks set to host injury-depleted Wings
RED WINGS (18-12-5) at BLACKHAWKS (22-8-3)
: Detroit 6-3-1; Chicago 6-3-1.
: Detroit leads the season series, 1-0, taking the only meeting so far this year, 3-2, on Oct. 8 at Joe Louis Arena.
: The Wings are continuing to battle through injuries as they make their first visit of the year to the United Center to face their oldest rival.
: At this point in the season, the Red Wings might have more money committed to injured reserve than they do to their active roster. No matter. The Wings have managed to climb to within six points of first in the Central, while winning four of their last five games despite a slow start to the year and an injury list that includes Andreas Lilja, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams, Niklas Kronwall, Dan Cleary, Jonathan Ericsson and, most recently, Henrik Zetterberg, who drove himself to the hospital after leaving Thursday's win over the Lightning.
The thin roster could wear on Detroit, which is playing the second half of a back-to-back Sunday. The Wings dropped the first end, falling 4-3 to Dallas Saturday afternoon. Goaltender Jimmy Howard let in four goals after not giving up more than two goals in a game in more than two weeks. With the quick turnaround, Chris Osgood will likely be between the pipes, and he can count on getting plenty of offensively help. Pavel Datsyuk has tallied seven points in his last five games, while waiver pick up and Michigan State alum Drew Miller is doing well in familiar environs. The New Jersey native has five points in his last four games.
: After going more than 150 minutes without giving up a goal, the Hawks were unable to keep the streak going Friday. Antti Niemi
gave up four goals against Boston, but Chicago still managed to pull out a wild 5-4 win in the shootout. Jonathan Toews
capped the win by recording the shootout-winner and scoring in regulation -- his fourth point in the last three games. Home has certainly agreed with Chicago during its current five-game homestand. That victory over the Bruins was the third straight for the first-place Hawks, who have won five of six overall.
has also been a force lately for the Hawks, but their real strength lately has been the goaltending. With the exception of Boston's four-goal outing, opponents have been struggling to get on the scoresheet at the United Center, as both Niemi and Cristobal Huet
have pitched shutouts this week. The Hawks play seven games in the last 11 days of December, so Niemi is likely to see more action -- particularly given how well he has performed -- but after sitting out the last two games, Huet is likely to get the start Sunday.
: Detroit has gotten an unexpected flurry of offense from Todd Bertuzzi. The oft-travelled winger has six goals and two assists in his last five games. Meanwhile, Patrick Kane
has kept on trucking for Chicago. In addition to sealing the shootout win over Boston Friday, Kane has 10 points in his last nine games.
: Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson
is considered probable despite having flu-like symptoms, while Ben Eager is doubtful for the Hawks with an upper-body injury. Zetterberg, Detroit's most recent player to land on IR is expected to miss two weeks with a separated left shoulder. Ericsson will be out indefinitely with a bone bruise on his left knee, while Cleary is expected to miss a month with a separated shoulder of his own.
: Given the MASH unit being trotted out in Detroit night after night, the Wings' ability to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt is an impressive feat. But it's possible that despite having three blueliners on IR, Detroit's defense might actually be getting better. In October and November, the Wings gave up an average of 2.73 goals per game. In December, however, opponents are averaging just 2.11 goals per game against the Winged Wheel.
: With the rivalry these teams have, it's surprising to find they haven't met since the third game of the season, and much has changed since that victory for Detroit in October. But despite the Wings bruised lineup, there may prove to be a race in the Central yet -- though Nashville has made it clear it won't be left out of the discussion. Regardless of who wins Sunday, the Wings and Hawks won't have to wait nearly as long for their next crack at one another. Chicago and Detroit meet again at the Joe this Wednesday.