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Stars @ Blackhawks Game Preview

February 9, 2010

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN / WGN (720-AM)
Know Thy Enemy: Defending Big D

Stat Pack:

Blackhawks Stars
5-4-1 6-4-0
Record at Home: 21-6-2 on the Road: 8-15-6
PP% 19.6% (7th) 18.4% (14th)
PK 85.1% (T-5th) 76.3% (26th)

Prior to the weekend, I was looking forward to the Blackhawks’ break in between games as a way to sort of recharge, maybe put up a feature or two, and basically catch up with Blackhawks Down Low things. Then St. Louis happened, and yeah, between Maggie O’Brien’s pre-game and some… bar? saloon?… out in The Landing post-game, I really shouldn’t have expected to get any work done at all. You’ll have to deal with just this game preview today, sorry.

There are three games left before the Olympic break, and despite the back-to-back games this weekend, the schedule now is fairly light for what the Blackhawks normally have to deal with. There was a two-day break between the St. Louis and Dallas games, and after tonight the Hawks don’t have to play again until Saturday. Hopefully this allows them to rest up and bring their “A” game every night, especially this one.

Dallas is an interesting team to play against, because for some reason, despite their mediocre season and goalie issues of their own, they are to Huet what Chicago is to Kiprusoff. But that’s what’s so great about Chicago’s goaltending tandem– whereas for Calgary it would probably be risky to start McElhinney against the Hawks, our team has the option of starting Niemi in goal the next time they face Dallas, and besides earning more starting time, that is probably one of the things that factored in the decision to start Niemi.

The numbers for Dallas are pretty interesting. They have a strong home record but they have struggled quite a lot on the road. Last I checked, they’ve had the most number of games go into overtime, and they’ve lost most of them. Their starting goalie is struggling between the pipes though I have not heard anything overwhelmingly positive or negative about their back-up. All affairs between Dallas and Chicago so far have been back-and-forth scoring spectacles, as well, so their leading scorers Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, and James Neal will have to be contained. Mike Ribeiro should be making his return to the lineup tonight after missing a month due to throat injury (Chris Higgins accidentally struck him in the throat with a stick) though Steve Ott, Mark Fistric, and Tom Wandell will not play tonight. Ott (emergency appendectomy) and Fistric (arthroscopic surgery) will miss three games while Wandell’s season is done after he tore his ACL last January 21 against the Vancouver Canucks.

And what about the Blackhawks? There was a time, not too long ago, when there were few things to say about the men wearing the Indianhead because they dominated games night in and night out, seemingly effortlessly. But this part of the season has rarely been kind to them, and among other things, the season’s compressed schedule and the upcoming Olympic games may be factoring into the “slump” they’re experiencing. They avoided a 4-game losing streak on Saturday though it could have easily gone into overtime had that early Blues’ goal been allowed. They’ve lost games they could have, and maybe should have, won. Since San Jose, the Blackhawks have a goals-for average of 1.75 in 4 games. Their goals for per game in the last 9 games is an anemic 2.22.

Then again, the lines have been jumbled up like nobody’s business since the return of Dave Bolland, so this scoring drought, if you can call it that, is probably just a matter of lines trying to get used to each other. Sharp has been reunited with Kane and Toews and it produced both goals in last Saturday’s match-up, but it’s the rest of the lines that need figuring out. Bolland centered Hossa and Kopecky for the most part, though he did also center Ladd and Versteeg at one point. Madden, Byfuglien, and Brouwer were reunited as the checking line last Saturday as well. Fraser, Ladd, and Versteeg made up the fourth line.

The bright side of those arrangements, since Eager is still probably out due to lower body injury, is that there really is no clear fourth line. Ladd and Versteeg could provide a lot more than jump, and the minutes are spread out more evenly. The down side is that Kopecky is on the second line. People have said he’s got the skill set of a top-six so he’s misplaced on the fourth line, but that top-six skill set needs to be able to keep up with Hossa and Bolland. (But apparently it’s Bolland who needs to keep up, since Hossa and Kopecky have taken to talking to each other in Slovak.)

I’m not sure how long Quenneville is going to keep the lines as they are–going by gut instinct, I’d try other line combinations, but then again, how long should lines be given to gel and develop chemistry before they’re deemed failed experiments? Somehow, we have yet to see Sharp or Versteeg with Hossa and Bolland, yet Byfuglien is still manning the point on power plays, so you know what, your guess is as good as mine.

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