The last time the Blackhawks and Red Wings faced off on Dec. 17, a 4-1 Hawks win, the two teams were dramatically different.
Detroit was healthy and, including the loss, stood at 20-8-3 on the season.
The Hawks were without Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Viktor Stalberg. After the victory, Chicago was 17-14-3 on the campaign.
When the teams meet this time, the rosters won’t resemble that meeting. Chris Osgood’s career might be over because of an injury, and Jimmy Howard has struggled with a bad knee of his own. Now there’s an outside chance that Evgeni Nabokov – if he clears waivers at noon – could be in net for the Red Wings.
Wings coach Mike Babcock said Friday that he hopes to see Dan Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom back on the ice soon after the All Star Game, and also hopes that veteran Mike Modano can come back not long after the others.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are fully healthy and are playing arguably their best hockey of the year. With Nick Leddy adding depth to the blue line, the Hawks’ defense is back among the league’s leaders despite their continued struggles on penalty kill. While Detroit has maintained their position atop the division, the Western Conference has caught up with the Hawks in games played and Chicago now sits in seventh in the Conference with 54 points.
The Hawks have allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal in 12 of the 13 games since the last meeting with Detroit, and has won four of their last five. Corey Crawford will get the start, and continues to play himself into legitimate consideration for the Calder Trophy. This game, and the subsequent Sunday matinee against Philadelphia in Chicago on Sunday, could cement the Blackhawks as contenders in the Western Conference.