Chicago Blackhawks (5-1-2) at Carolina Hurricanes (3-3-3)
RBC Center, 7 p.m.
TV: CSN-Chicago, FS-Carolinas
Carolina has gone from winning three games in a row to losing three straight but thankfully, we live in the new NHL where we can say "hey at least we earned two points in those two losses!" How many of those points are deserved is another debate. The team's last game against Ottawa where they lost in a shootout could go down as one that "neither team deserved to win" because both teams had stretches of awful play but took control at other times. You have to give credit to the Canes for giving a great effort to tie the game and controlling the OT period but that ultimately wasn't good enough. However, I think we can say that the Canes at least earned the one point they got in that game. Now we can just hope they show up for the entire game this time because they are taking on, in my opinion, the best team in the Western Conference.
Lines, analysis and game notes after the jump
Tlusty - Staal - Skinner
Skinner - Jokinen - Ruutu
Ponikarovsky - Sutter - Dwyer
Boychuk - Brent - Stewart
Pitkanen - McBain
Gleason - Allen
Harrison - Kaberle
Brunette - Toews - Sharp
Carcillo - Kane - Hossa
Bickell - Bolland - Frolik
Stalberg - Kruger - Mayers
Keith - Leddy
Seabrook - Hjalmarsson
Montdaor - O'Donnell
Getting to know the Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are my pick to win the Western Conference because I think they are one of the most well-coaches teams in the league and I feel their roster has a great balance of scoring and defense. Joel Quinneville is one of the best coaches in the league when it comes to line matching and he proved that very well in the playoffs two years ago, especially in the Vancouver series. Now, I know they were only the 8 seed last year and had a first round exit but they were still a very good team that kept losing in one goal games, especially in OT/the shootout. They also didn't lose much this off-season and made a few good low-risk signings along with shedding some cap space. Andrew Brunette is not an unreasonable replacement for Troy Brouwer on the first line and can easily build off of Toews and Sharps' great play. I see Frolik having a bounce-back season after netting only 11 goals last season. Steve Montador is not Brian Campbell but he quietly had a very good season in Buffalo last year and can provide a considerable amount of offense from the blue-line.
Through 8 games, the Hawks have a corsi percentage of 56.0% and it's still above 50% if you take Toews' controbutions out of the equation. I would that say they are off to a fine start. The addition of Dan Carcillo was a bit of a wild card since he can be an effective player when he's not taking stupid penalties and it's very interesting to see that he's being used on the second line. However, if you remember correctly, Carcillo was used as a top-six forward for some time when he was in Philadelphia so maybe the Hawks are trying to do the same her. That line with Kane and Hossa gets TONS of offensive zone starts so I can see why they want him there. Also, I would be on the lookout for that third line. Bickell-Bolland-Frolik get a lot of tough matchups and have beaten most of them out this year while providing offense. Having a line that can contribute like that in both ends wins teams a lot of games.
- Brett Sutter scratched tonight in favor of Anthony Stewart. I'm a fan of this because it keeps Boychuk in the lineup and Sutter hasn't done much in the past few games other than take bad penalties. Stewart hasn't been bad with fourth line minutes but I would like to see him get more ice time before I make a final judgement on him.
- Kaberle and Harrison are coming off what may have been their best game of the season so I'm curious to see how they respond. It should be noted that they didn't get the benefit of soft ice time against Ottawa either, so that's great news.
- I'm not sure what Tlusty brings to the first line that Ruutu doesn't. Tlusty has actually been one of the team's better players at generating scoring chances but that was with third line minutes. So far, everyone that's played well on a lower line has struggled with Staal (Skinner, LaRose, Ponikarovsky) and I don't know what's in Tlusty's skillset that will change this trend. Tlusty has shown a better ability to finish off plays this year, so maybe that could give him an edge. We'll see how it works out.
- Ruutu-Jokinen-Skinner are reunited tonight and all I can say is that it took them long enough. I fully expect this line to get the more favorable matchups tonight because that's the way it should be.
- The Canes have had the lead seven times this year and they are 3-2-2 in those games. Wasn't as bad as I thought, but I'm going to look into this deeper.
- A third line role might suit Ponikarovsky best. He's actually been one of the team's best players at driving the play and working well with tough zone starts but he isn't producing scoring chances. In this role, he doesn't have to do that.
- The Canes have only outshot their opponent three times this year at even strength and have yet to do it for two games in a row. Let's try to break that streak tonight.
- Carolina's struggles in the second period have been pretty well-documented but I should probably add in that Chicago has scored 10 goals in the second period this year, but have surrendered 12 in their own end. This could get interesting.
- I have a feeling that someone's scoring their first goal of the season tonight and I'm going to say that it's Patrick Dwyer
Enjoy the game.