2013 NHL PREVIEW: CENTRAL DIVISION

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Finally, after months and months of everyone involved being morons, causing 113 days, 625 games, and the biggest outdoor hockey game in history to be cancelled, hockey fans can finally say “Game On!”  The NHL has a new 10-year labor agreement, and is set to start the shortened, 48 game 2013 season on Saturday, January 19.  Find out what you need to know about every team in the NHL for the upcoming season, this time featuring the Central Division.  Continue after the jump to find out where your team will finish.

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Detroit Red Wings and Coach Mike Babcock: Will There Be a Seven-Year Itch?

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It’s hockey season in Detroit again. Time to put up with another 82-game grind. In the city’s self-ascribed “Hockeytown,” it’s considered par, not impolite, to look past the months of October through March so that the fans can worry about playoff match-ups.

The 82-game regular season is something that is tolerated in Detroit, not necessarily enjoyed. It’s a longer opening act than a bad comedian.

Wing Nuts actually had to pay attention, a little, to the regular season two years ago, when the calendar turned to 2010 and the Red Wings were still monkeying around, trying to secure a playoff spot. But that drama was short-lived and by the end of February, order was restored as the Red Wings distanced themselves from the bottom feeders.

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Henrik Zetterberg: Crusher of Blackhawk Hopes and Dreams

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By Paul M. Banks

Although the end was not pretty, it was quite a memorable season for the Chicago Blackhawks, who long surpassed expectations: reaching the Western Conference quarterfinals for the first time since 1995. As I predicted exactly on the Big Hair Hockey Show podcast, they lost to their bitter rivals the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games. One of the biggest reasons why is Wings alternate captain and left wing Henrik Zetterberg.

Last season Zetterberg was nominated for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward, but finished as a runner-up to teammate Pavel Datsyuk. This year the league’s reigning Conn Smythe Trophy (Stanley Cup playoffs MVP) had 3 goals, an assist, and a +2 in the series.

Hawks fans, just in case you don’t have sufficient reason to dislike him…his current contract is the longest and most lucrative in Detroit history and he’s also engaged to a Swedish model and tv host. Zetterberg spoke about overcoming the Hawks despite a couple slow starts “We’ve had some trouble during the playoffs starting off well. Every game we talk about it. They’re (Chicago) coming with a lot of speed. If you execute on the first pass, it’s a lot easier for you. You know we did that today.”

There are better days ahead for the Hawks, currently the league’s youngest team, but in this series it was Detroit’s veteran savvy and composure that led to victory. Zetterberg spoke about the Wings’ response to the Hawks’ running around and attempting to chip it up in the series’ only true blowout: the Wings’ 6-1 game four victory. “We just tried to play with poise. We knew they were coming. They didn’t basically have anything else to do, you know when the game kind of ran away there. Tried to play physical, and I think the ref did a good job, made the calls, and we took advantage on the power play,” Henrik stated.

NHL Western Conference Finals Preview

By Aylin Diaz of Chics Hockey and the Big Hair Hockey Show

The Chicago Blackhawks have lifted themselves to their first Western Conference Finals in 13 years.  They are matched up against their hated rival and reigning Stanley Cup winner, the Detroit Red Wings.  The Chicago Blackhawks are topped off with a corps of young players such as Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg.  They are lead by solid goaltending in veteran Nikolai Khabibulin. 

The Detroit Red Wings count on experience with seasoned veterans such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa.  Their goaltending performance is topped off with Chris Osgood as he continues a stellar playoff performance.

Even though age and experience plays a factor, the Blackhawks can count on Khabibulin’s experience on goal.  The prior Stanley Cup champion (2004 Tampa Bay Lightning) now with years of experience playing for the Blackhawks, hadn’t beaten the Vancouver Canucks in eleven years prior to this past playoff run.  He notched 4 out of 6 games in the semifinals against the Canucks maintaining a .896 save percentage in a total of 12 postseason games.

Detroit Red Wings’ Chris Osgood baffled many spectators and quieted his critics.  He began the season with a .887 save percentage that evolved to .921 during the playoff season.  Only Detroit General Manager Ken Holland kept confidence in his performance following Osgood’s disastrous season start.  Relying on solid goaltending, the Detroit Red Wings were able to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.

The series is slated to be an Original Six special relying on traditional gritty plays mixed with the new NHL factor of speed.  The Blackhawks will count on their quick skating and physical play against the Detroit Red Wings.  Similarly to the early games against the Anaheim Ducks, the Red Wings must watch out for their capable goal scorers being shut down by heavy checking.

And the Blackhawks will definitely focus on hits during this series.  They are third in the playoffs with Dustin Byfuglien holding a record 55 hits and Brent Seabrook totaling 45.  The team also counts on Dustin Byfuglien, Samuel Pahlsson and rookie Kris Versteeg to produce against the Detroit Red Wings.  The so called “energy line” has combined for a total of 7 goals, while Martin Havlat, Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd have totaled 11 goals.

The Detroit Red Wings will also take firepower from their defense. Nicklas Lidstrom has averaged a point-per-game through the first playoff two rounds while Brian Rafalski tied with his teammate for third in defensive scoring during the regular season with 59 points proves similarly.

Offensively, the line consisting of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp has generated 17 of Chicago’s 44 goals.  Patrick Kane alone has achieved 12 points and a team-leading eight goals in 11 games. He notched his first career playoff hat trick during game 6 placing the team ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

To outplay the Blackhawks, Detroit will attempt to outshoot their opponent.  In fact, the Detroit Red Wings have outshot their opponents by an average of 13 shots a game so far in the playoffs.  Their offensive capabilities count upon less heralded players such as right wing Daniel Cleary and center Darren Helm.   Daniel Cleary is fourth in the playoffs in scoring for the Detroit Red Wings with 9 points and team best plus 10 rating.   Darren Helm, who has never scored a goal in 23 career regular season games, has achieved 4 in 29 playoff games spanning two seasons.  These players are keeping the Detroit Red Wings going.

Furthermore, the Detroit Red Wings powerplay as that of the Blackhawks is superb. However, both teams have struggled with penalty killing.  The return of Brian Rafalski to the lineup has generated the best defensive opportunities for the Detroit Red Wings on the penalty kill this past playoff run.

Despite the even matchup, the Blackhawks have the advantage of now having Scotty Bowman, who coached the Detroit Red Wings for 15 years.  Bowman serves as an adviser to the Chicago Blackhawks.  Coach Joel Quenneville finds his insight useful and Detroit Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock knows the implications of his influence on the young team.  He will be a huge asset to preparations.  In fact, Babcock said to the Canadian Press:  “Scottie is a book of knowledge. Number one, he’s got to be willing to share with you. Number two, you got to want it.”

The Chicago Blackhawks really want to win and can achieve it in 7 games if their speed, production and new Bowmanian tactics work in favor against the Detroit Red Wings.