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Blues @ Blackhawks Game Preview

February 3, 2010

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN / WGN (720-AM)
Know Thy Enemy: St. Louis Game Time

Stat Pack:

Blackhawks Blues
6-4-0 5-3-2
Record at Home: 21-5-1 on the Road: 15-8-4
PP% 20.7% (6th) 16.8% (22nd)
PK 85.5% (4th) 84.9% (6th)

At the beginning of the season, everyone expected the Central Division to a force in the Western Conference, with all five teams legitimately duking it out for playoff spots.

We’re a little over the halfway mark of the season and oh, boy, how far off were all of us? Instead of some ongoing battle for Central dominance, the Blackhawks have all but locked up the division while the Red Wings struggle through a spate of unfortunate injury after another. The Predators are somehow the closest contenders to the division while Steve Mason languishes in a sophomore slump in Columbus and Davis Payne attempts to right the young roster in St Louis, who the men in the Indianhead sweaters face tonight for their first home game since the longest road trip of the season.

To the casual observer, it might be easy to write off tonight’s match-up as one of those winnable games, and though it is–the Hawks have won both meetings so far this season–keep in mind that we are talking about the Blues. Besides the Canucks, this is a team that the Hawks love to hate. To say things got a little chippy in the last game against them would be a massive understatement. No less than 12 penalties were handed out to each team, with the Hawks somehow coming away the worst for it with 63 penalty minutes to the Blues’ 44.

So, I suppose, we can expect more of that tonight. It’s been a month since the last game, and almost exactly a month to the day that Davis Payne took over for Andy Murray.

The Blues have not fared exponentially better under Payne than they did under Murray, though so far, at least, they’ve been more than a .500 team. While they did go on a 4-game winning streak this year, they’ve also only won 2 of their last 6 games–and those wins were against teams in Alberta. Chris Mason (or the defense in front of him) seems to be struggling in recent games (he has averaged a SV% of 0.898 in his last 5 games), and the offense hasn’t had luck producing goals either, averaging 2.167 goals for in the last 6 games.

That being said, the Blues have also kept recent games close, with all 4 of their last losses the result of 1-goal games. They are also desperate for a playoff spot. It is a bit of a tall order considering there are only 20-something games left in the season, but it would not be something they haven’t done before already, so expect a potentially tough opponent ahead. If they can’t skate with the Hawks, they’ll certainly try to even it up some other way.

Blackhawks fans, meanwhile, could very well be welcoming back more than just the team that left for that road trip. Signs indicate Dave Bolland will be making his return in tonight’s game, upgrading a roster that already sits 2nd in the West and 3rd overall. Washington currently leads the league with their 11th straight win last night and San Jose’s regulation loss to Detroit.

While Quenneville is undertandably hesitant to give Bolland 2nd-line minutes right away, as he should be, his return means more than just gaining the Hawks’ 2nd-line center back. It also means, when he is able to play more minutes and center the 2nd line as he was meant to, that Patrick Sharp returns to his natural position at wing. Sharp’s done remarkable work filling in for Bolland, but it might have come at the expense of his own stat line. Bolland’s return thus ensures the Hawks get both a center and a wing back–without having to trade anyone.

A couple of Hawks have been on fire lately, though, so while that line gets resolved the rest of the team should be able to hold their own. With the exception of Troy Brouwer, who has 7 points, all top six forwards have 8 points each in the last 8 games. Duncan Keith continues his offensive output with 6 points in his last 8, only 3 points behind Mike Green, who leads defensemen in scoring.

Niemi will start for the Hawks, possibly against Mason for the Blues. The defensive lapses we’ve noted in the past have yet to be righted, so that is an area of concern coming into the game. The Hawks need to be better at clearing rebounds and protecting the net, as well as avoiding getting too high up in their own zone that they allow odd-man rushes to develop. As is usually the case when the Blues come to town, the Hawks should watch their backs. And for Dave Bolland, I do mean that literally.

Let’s go Hawks!

Update: According to Chris Kuc on Twitter, Niemi is ill so Huet will be playing tonight.

Update #2: Apparently Niemi’s illness is the flu.  Joe Fallon has been called up from Rockford for emergency purposes. Lets hope this is a short term thing that doesn’t spread around the locker room.

Also, Fraser is the healthy scratch tonight.  Bolland will be starting with Eager and Kopecky on the wings tonight.  Be sure to give a great big yell when they announce the starters.  Its good to have the team back at home.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    February 3, 2010 2:49 PM

    I am so excited for tonight, Saturday feels so long ago. This maybe why work is beyond slow today.

  2. February 3, 2010 3:13 PM

    Interesting, I’m going to the Rockford game tonight, so I guess I’ll be seeing Crawford. Wonder if the hogs called anyone up to backup Corey?

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