The biggest challenge about this game isn’t the Red Wings’ roster, or its goaltender, or Coach Cranky Pants, or the brain-dead knuckle-draggers throwing seafood on the ice.

Detroit (*spitting noise*) is nearly unbeatable on home ice.

But notice I said “nearly.”

The Wings are 16-2-1 at the Joe this season. Like a cornered animal, they lash out and get more aggressive. And the little bastards are particularly full of themselves this weekend, they just leaked word confirming the rumor that they will be hosting the Winter Classic in 2013 against Toronto. I hope it’s 65 degrees and their ice melts.

At any rate, the Red Wings apparently take home ice very seriously, and so far it has paid off. They haven’t lost in the Motor City since November 3rd against Calgary — totalling 13 straight home wins.

But the team is beatable, as we proved here in Chicago two weeks ago. The key is to do exactly what we did in our first match against them this season: heavy pressure on the back-check. Pester them mercilessly from behind while they are trying to mount their attack, and they don’t know how to respond. We did that to perfection in December: if we do it today, we’re going to end that home winning streak of theirs.

And that means the Blackhawks are going to need to come out fast, stay fast, and finish fast. Finish checks, win the battles in the corners, crisp passes, smart shots, and taking the hits to make the plays. The two guys that are doing that the best these days are the two newest members of the Blackhawks: rookie forwards Andrew Shaw, and Jimmy Hayes.

Injuries forced Stan Bowman’s hand in calling up these two, and there were more than a few skeptics as they suited up in their Indian Head sweaters. But they quickly showed that they weren’t just there to fill in for injured players: they were playing to win roster spots. They’re making a strong case that they are going to stay right here through the regular season, and into the playoffs.

The kids have just 12 man-games between them since arriving from Rockford. In that time, they have a combined 5 goals and an assist. The back-checking needs work: they are each minus-1. But that will come. In the mean time, they are both willing to go full-blast into a corner with guys who they used to pretend to be on Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey for Nintendo-64 and battle for the puck. More than half the time they come out with it too.

We’ll leave the discussion about what to do with these young lads as it pertains to underperforming veterans like Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik, and returning wounded soldiers like Patrick Sharp, for another day. This afternoon, they are both playing. Let us wish them well, and enjoy the raw energy and stainless steel gonads they bring to the Blackhawks game while they’re here.

Administrative nonsense: the Red Wings’ Patrick Eaves is out for tonight, and escaped convict Todd Bertuzzi missed practice on Friday — though the plan is for him to suit up against Chicago. Time will tell. For the Blackhawks, Marcus Kruger was activated from the injured list on Friday, and barring some change in his status he will be in the lineup today. He better be, since they already sent Ben Smith down to Rockford. Additionally, Patrick Sharp is still recovering from a wrist injury and is out today; and if you missed the news from yesterday evening, Daniel Carcillo will undergo surgery to repair his ACL, and will miss the remainder of the season. Between the pipes, it’s Jimmy Howard for the Wings, Chicago starts Corey Crawford.

Wacky-early start for the NBC television broadcast — the network pukes want to drop the puck at 11:30am Chicago time. WGN AM-720 for the broadcast radio coverage; XM has the game on channel 212; and Sirius Premiere customers will find the game on channel 211.

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