Wings miss their frequent matchups with Blackhawks

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Jonathan Toews leads the Blackhawks in scoring with 13 points.

Detroit -- There have been a lot of positive byproducts for the Red Wings moving to the Eastern Conference, but one thing everyone seems to miss is playing the Blackhawks frequently.

For players and fans, seeing the Blackhawks only twice a season – once at Joe Louis Arena (Friday) and once in Chicago – is a disappointment.

It will make Friday's 7:30 p.m. game at JLA a special atmosphere, to be sure.

"I really enjoy enjoy playing against them and most of the guys in here do, too," Brendan Smith said.

Said Jimmy Howard: "I miss a lot of the Central teams, especially Chicago. It's always a fun atmosphere, always an up-tempo, fas, game, and a playoff like atmosphere. And that's what I'm expecting -- a lot of the same tomorrow night."

Before realignment, the Wings and Blackhawks met six times each regular season.

"One team I miss from the West is Chicago," said Jonathan Ericsson.

What sticks in the minds of many Red Wings still is the 2013 playoff series against Chicago, the Blackhawks winning Game 7 in overtime after rallying from a 3-1 series deficit.

"Definitely frustrating," said Smith of Brent Seabrook's game-winner off the skate of Niklas Kronwall. "We played really well that year. A lot of people in general ruled us out way before (the playoffs began). It stinks we couldn't finish off that one.

"It's tough to swallow still."

There are few genuine rivalries in the NHL these days, but Red Wings-Blackhawks is one.

"There's a rivalry, there's always been a rivalry, an Original Six rivalry," Smith said. "It's brewed, and it's gotten stronger the last few years."

The Blackhawks may not have the record they expected at this point in the season (9-6-1, 19 points), third in the Central Division. But with scorers such as Jonathan Toews (six goals, 13 points), Patrick Kane (four goals, 10 points) and Marian Hossa (two goals, six assists) it's a highly-skilled, dangerous team.

Maybe a bit younger overall, but still dangerous.

"I sure think so," coach Mike Babcock said. "They're a very good team. Some of their young guys, they've done a real good job of bringing guys in."

Winger Brandon Saad, just 22, was a second-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2011. He's second on the team in scoring with 11 points.

"We know who we're playing against," Babcock said. "They're a good team. They must be -- our fans bought up all the tickets. It must be an important game."

Jurco playing

Tomas Jurco will be in the lineup Friday, Babcock confirmed, after being a healthy scratch the last three games.

There was speculation Jurco could be sent to minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids, with Stephen Weiss (groin) almost ready to return. But Weiss isn't quite ready, and Babcock might use Jurco on a line with Pavel Datsyuk (groin) – who is likely to return from a two-game absence -- and Justin Abdelkader.

"Whether he plays on a line with Pavel or whether I change things around depending on whether Pavel plays, I expect him (Jurco) to play hard," Babcock said. "As long as he gets scoring chances and is working hard, is good defensively, everything is positive."

Ice chips

Weiss will remain out of the lineup for at least another game or two.

"He's dealing with (trainer) Piet (Van Zant) every day," Babcock said. "He's out there, he's working hard, and obviously these are huge decisions. When he comes back in, he can't afford to get hurt again. He has to get some traction."

… Daniel Alfredsson reportedly could decide on his future -- retire or continue playing -- before Dec. 1. The Red Wings have barely heard from Alfredsson, 41, who is troubled by a bad back.

… Babcock doesn't sound like he'll be glued to updates on prospect Anthony Mantha making his debut in Grand Rapids this weekend.

"Not really," Babcock said. "When we see Pavel get back, never mind a kid who hasn't played in the NHL … (Datsyuk) has to get traction and get playing real well."

Red Wings vs. Blackhawks

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD.97.1

Outlook: Chicago has the best penalty kill in the NHL (91.7 percent) and the Red Wings are second (88.7 percent). … G Corey Crawford ranks among the league leaders in goals-against average (1.76) and save percentage (.931).