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Coyotes @ Blackhawks Game Preview

February 5, 2010

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN / WGN (720-AM)
Know Thy Enemy: Five for Howling

Stat Pack:

Blackhawks Coyotes
6-4-0 8-2-0
Record at Home: 21-6-1 on the Road: 13-10-3
PP% 20.5% (6th) 16.4% (24th)
PK 85.2% (4th) 83.2% (9th)

I’ll come right out and say it: this game makes me nervous.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, either. Maybe it’s because the Blackhawks (and their fans) have yet to see what a 3-game losing streak is like this season, so there’s something like an air of inevitability surrounding this game. Maybe it’s because the Hawks have been relatively iffier in the last few games than they’ve been since the beginning of the season. Maybe it’s because the Coyotes are riding a hot 5-game winning streak and the Hawks are coming off 2 consecutive losses.

Then again, the last time these two teams met, the Blackhawks were on the first game of the Father’s Trip. Jonathan Toews was missing games because of his concussion, and David Bolland was probably playing only so the team can have someone more than Madden (or Ebbett?) to rely on. (Bolland played the next day in Colorado, but Kris Versteeg took his faceoffs in the third period and they announced he was undergoing back surgery shortly after that game.) Versteeg scored the lone goal with a shorthanded tally (interestingly, the Hawks are 3-3-1 when scoring shorthanded) but Bryzgalov stood tall and turned away the other 31 shots he faced.

The Coyotes, as I’ve said before, are riding a bit of a hot streak. While they’ve indefinitely lost their leading goal scorer Scottie Upshall to injury, Shane Doan has been doing more than his fair share for the team, accounting for 12 points in the last 7 games.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, may still be adjusting to the new lines and rotations brought about by Bolland’s return. According to Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald, the Hawks spent yesterday practicing a new look. The first line of Kane-Toews-Brouwer stayed together, but Dave Bolland centered Hossa and Ladd while Patrick Sharp moved down to center the third line with Versteeg and Byfuglien. Madden centered the fourth line with Kopecky and Eager.

You gotta feel a little bad for Sharp here–he’s done yeoman’s work taking on the role of a center, possibly at the expense of his stat line, and just when you’d think he’d go back to wing with Bolland’s return he’s instead now asked to stay on as a center, just one line lower. I don’t think it’s going to be last longer than a few games, though, but this was certainly a scenario no one considered happening.

That said, the lines certainly show some promise. Hossa-Bolland-Ladd is essentially an attempt to recreate last year’s Havlat-Bolland-Ladd, with an upgrade on the wing. I’m not sure yet what I feel about Versteeg-Sharp-Byfuglien, but I do know that Versteeg and Sharp had great chemistry when they played together early this year. It’s hard to see that third line as a clear checking line without Madden, though. Actually, Quenneville could now match the Hossbolladd line against the opponent’s top lines, leaving the Versteeg-Sharp-Byfuglien line to… whatever it is they might end up doing best.

Madden centering the fourth line should be interesting, if only to see how many minutes they’d end up with and if Madden gets to jump onto other lines now and then. Inasmuch as I’m not quite sure what to expect from the Coyotes because I haven’t seen them play all that much this year, I’m also not sure what we should expect from the Hawks tonight. The best I can come up with is probably a lot of line-juggling, something we haven’t really seen a lot of recently.

Here’s to hoping all’s well that ends well.

Update: According to @NHLBlackhawks, Coach Q said after the morning skate that Fraser will play tonight against Phoenix. No word on which forward will be scratched.

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