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    Heading into the Series

    The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are coming into their series on Thursday sweeping the previous one. Chicago played the Columbus Blue Jackets beating them by scores of 4-3 in each game. The Red Wings are fresh off of a sweep of the Central Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. The teams have struggled over their last 10 games, each playing roughly just .500 hockey. Detroit has not been good against Chicago to this point in the season, posting just a 1-4-1 record against the Blackhawks. This will be a much different-looking Red Wings team from a personnel standpoint when the two teams square off Thursday night. General Manager Steve Yzerman was active at the trade deadline and that will majorly impact the position groups below.

    Chicago Offense

    It continues to be the Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat show in Chicago after losing captain Jonathan Toews. Kane is third in the league in points, while DeBrincat is sixth in the league in goals. This is a very top-heavy offense, as Kane has almost double the points of Dominik Kubalik who sits in third on the team with 29. Normally if there is just one line that is rolling for a team, coaches would just draw up a plan to shut them down. Unfortunately for the Red Wings coaching staff, Kane and DeBrincat are unstoppable currently. This is especially true on the powerplay, as DeBrincat and Kane have almost single-handedly elevated Chicago to the sixth-best powerplay in the league. With the extra man, Chicago is converting almost one of every four attempts. The Red Wings will have to play extremely disciplined defense against the two stars in the series.

    Detroit Offense

    The Red Wings are coming off of a series scoring eight goals over two games against Carolina. Adam Erne is a huge reason for this. After scoring two goals, and four assists in the first eleven weeks of the season, he has nine goals and two assists over the past month. The scoring surge has been exciting, yet albeit unexpected, and has Red Wings fans wondering what the team actually has in Erne. In addition to Erne, the offense may get some help Thursday night from some new faces. In a deadline-day blockbuster move, Yzerman acquired Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2022 second-round pick for Anthony Mantha. Vrana has outproduced Mantha to this point in the year. Joining a struggling offense in Detroit may see his production decline slightly. Overall Vrana should score at a similar pace to Mantha in Detroit. This unit is one to keep an eye on with the new additions.

    Chicago Defense

    For the Blackhawks, the defense is the group that needs the most improvement. Duncan Keith at 37, is still the lead defenseman on this team. Keith is averaging just shy of 24 minutes of average time on the ice (ATOI). His defense partner in Connor Murphy is a full 10 years his junior, slots in right behind him with 22:20 ATOI. Chicago has an expected goals against (xGA) on the season that is about the average leaguewide. The average play at five on five (5v5) would be acceptable if they were average on the penalty kill. This is not the case. Killing just 73.3% of opposing powerplays places them bottom three in the league. Detroit may not have the offensive firepower that Chicago has but could be competitive if they capitalize on chances this unit provides.

    Detroit Defense

    The Detroit defense got even thinner after moving Patrik Nemeth to Colorado last week. Jon Merrill was shipped off to Montreal, bringing back a fifth-round pick and Hayden Verbeek to Detroit. Merrill at times would shine as Detroit’s best defenseman, so this move downgrades this unit. The moves of Nemeth and Merrill have resulted in Gustav Lindstrom and Dennis Cholowski being entered back into the lineup. So although there may be a downgrade in defensive experience, getting the younger defensemen minutes is a positive. This group continues to be the best group as a whole yielding four less xGA than the league average. The penalty kill, although steadily improving, is still in the bottom 25% of the league. As usual, a disciplined game will go a long way to help this group.

    Chicago Goaltending

    What started off in Chicago as a goaltending tandem has turned into a workhorse situation.  Kevin Lankinen has started 31 games in a season where Chicago finds themselves in a race to make the playoffs. The rookie has held his own with a .915 save percentage (SV%) and 7.1 goals saved above average (GSAA). Of the 31 games that Lankinen has started, 18 of them have been quality starts. Considering that Chicago is making a push for the playoffs, I would anticipate the Red Wings seeing Lankinen in each of the next two games.

    Detroit Goaltending

    Jonathan Bernier’s first game in his return from injury was a scary one for Red Wings fans.  Bernier has been the MVP of the team up to this point in the year, so to see him look human in a 7-1 loss was abnormal. He followed that up in a stellar performance against the Hurricanes in a 3-1 victory. Thomas Greiss has turned the corner from his rocky start to the season as well. Although his numbers still are not great, his .897 SV% is much higher than it was a few weeks back. It is most likely that Detroit will start each of the goaltenders in this series. If that is the case, both goaltenders will need to be on the top of their game against elite playmaker Patrick Kane, and elite sniper in DeBrincat.

    Prediction

    After the Red Wings trade of Anthony Mantha, I thought that the Red Wings would get off to a slow start against the Hurricanes.  They did not.  They came out inspired and executed coach Jeff Blashill’s game plan perfectly. This club may not have the high-end skill that others do, but it seems they have grit. I am predicting a split in this series. More specifically, I think that they come out inspired by the addition of Vrana and Panik. I am calling for a victory in game one of the series, and for the Red Wings to fall in the second game.  I do believe that these games will be competitive.

     

    Brandon Gunn
    I am a husband, and a father of two that along with my family has rescued two dogs. I am an avid, lifelong Detroit sports fan for better or for worse, Red Wings season ticket holder, and live in a house divided (I root for UM, she roots for OSU). I have played hockey my entire life, and help coach my son’s hockey team. If you aren't laughing, you arent living. Beware of sarcasm.

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