The Blackhawks and Red Wings square off for the final time this season after pandemic-impacted realignment brought them together again in the same division ever since Detroit defected to the Eastern Conference in 2013-14.
With a win, the Hawks can at least keep pace with the Predators who are also in action today versus the Hurricanes. After the weekend, the Hawks and Preds battle in a pivotal 3-game set that could make or break Chicago's playoff hopes.
Besides the last series with the Stars to end the season, the Hawks go up against the heavy hitters of the division -- Lightning, Panthers, and Hurricanes -- the rest of the way. Gaining ground in the head-to-heads with Nashville is crucial.
However, another perspective for viewing the concluding month is that draft positioning is influenced by how the Hawks fare in the standings. They could be in a similar slot as the 2020 draft (17th) or get into the lottery for a chance at the top 2 picks.
Even if Chicago is a lottery team, there is no guarantee that they -- or any other team for that matter -- will receive the #1 or #2 pick or be in the top 3, top 5, or top 10. Regardless, best player available is always the ideal approach.
Then a third lens to look at the remainder of the season is focusing on further development of individual players and the team as a whole to execute fundamentals, systems, and game plans. Progress and refinement are critical to building a contender again.
Win or lose, what matters most is that the team plays the right way. Offensively, nail basics like breaking out, passing, and forechecking. Defensively, nail basics like managing gaps, getting inside positioning, and providing net coverage.
Also, it's imperative that the coaching staff strikes a balance between personnel and strategy whether for line combinations, D pairs, or special teams. It's not an either/or situation of personnel or strategy but rather a both/and situation.
Where this has been a point of contention recently is how head coach Jeremy Colliton has mixed up special teams such as having 5 forwards on a power play unit or players like Alex DeBrincat on the penalty kill. Some wonder why while others say why not.
This shake up is reminiscent of one of the first criticisms of Colliton as a rookie head coach when he took a lot of heat for saying line combinations don't matter. Credit to him, he did an about face the next season stating that they do matter.
What he clarified, though, was that having a strong work ethic and solid compete level also make a difference. Again, it's a both/and rather than an either/or. A team needs to work and compete hard while also leveraging players' strengths to put them in optimal roles.
At the end of the day, the coaches and players alike need to be held accountable for how they gel as a team and move forward in unison. The coaches need to develop the strategy and deploy personnel appropriately while the players need to execute.
Game 45, April 17:
Blackhawks @ Red Wings
Blackhawks, 20-19-5, 45 Pts (5th)
Red Wings, 16-23-6, 38 Pts (8th)
Blackhawks, 2.75 (18th)
Red Wings, 2.27 (26th)
Blackhawks, 3.11 (24th)
Red Wings, 3.11 (22nd)
Blackhawks, 33-137, 24.1% (7th)
Red Wings, 15-126, 11.9% (30th)
Blackhawks, 86-117, 73.5% (30th)
Red Wings, 99-129, 76.7% (24th)
The IceHogs host the Wolves this evening at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford then hit the road to face the Wolves again on Wednesday before heading to Des Moines to play the Iowa Stars next weekend.
See you on the boards!