After differing results in their season-opening trips to Europe, the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are in contrasting situations heading into their first meeting of 2009-10.
As the Original Six rivals make their North American debut Thursday night in Detroit, the Blackhawks will try to build off a respectable effort while the Red Wings will attempt to avoid their worst start in 20 years in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.
Chicago took three out of four possible points in Helsinki against Florida, bouncing back from last Friday’s 4-3 shootout defeat for a 4-0 victory the following day.
Starting goaltender Cristobal Huet failed to hold on to three different leads as he gave up three goals on 24 shots in the shootout loss, but Finnish backup Antti Niemi stopped all 23 shots in Saturday’s win.
Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Dustin Byfuglien scored a goal apiece in both games, and Kane added a pair of assists.
“We’re disappointed letting the extra point slip away, but we got three out of four,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s a great start to our season, better than last season. We got a big test coming up.”
That challenge for the Blackhawks (1-0-1) is winning at Joe Louis Arena, where their playoff run ended in Game 5 of the conference finals with their third road loss in the series.
Including last postseason, Chicago has four victories in its last 22 trips to Detroit. The Blackhawks are 4-9-2 overall against the Red Wings since Jan. 6, 2008.
They could improve that record by taking advantage of Detroit’s leaky defense and struggling penalty kill units. The Red Wings (0-2-0), who led the league in goals last season, scored three times in each of their two games in Sweden, but goaltenders Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard combined to give up nine goals in the defeats to St. Louis.
They allowed four of those goals on nine power-play chances, including the Blues’ 3-for-5 performance in Saturday’s 5-3 loss for Howard. Chicago, meanwhile, was 3 for 8 (37.5 percent) with the man advantage in Finland and killed off all six penalties against the Panthers.
Despite coming within a win of their fifth Stanley Cup since 1997, the Red Wings ranked 25th in penalty killing (78.3) last season.
“Our penalty killing wasn’t good (Saturday) either,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “We know we have to play better for 60 minutes than we’ve been doing here.”
Osgood took a 4-3 loss last Friday, but should have a strong chance at redemption as he tries to help his team avoid three consecutive season-opening defeats for the first time since 1989-90.
Since returning to the Red Wings in 2005-06, Osgood is 8-0-1 with a 1.92 goals-against average versus the Blackhawks at home, including postseason.
He’s also 16-3-2 with a 2.13 GAA overall against Chicago since March 27, 2004, when he was with the Blues.
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who needs three points for 1,000 in his career, will try to duplicate his previous success against the Blackhawks.
Lidstrom has 26 goals and 80 points versus Chicago – the most against one opponent in his career – but failed to record a point in four matchups last season.