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Thrashers @ Blackhawks Game Preview

February 13, 2010

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN-HD / WGN (720-AM)
Know Thy Enemy: Bird Watchers Anonymous

Stat Pack:

Blackhawks Thrashers
5-4-1 4-4-2
Record at Home: 22-6-2 on the Road: 13-14-5
PP% 19.3% (T-7th) 17.0% (T-21st)
PK 85.0% (T-6th) 81.6% (17th)

A few weeks ago, the big story coming into tonight’s game was whether or not Kovalchuk will be playing with the Thrashers or the Blackhawks. We’ve got the answer, and it’s neither. Some may find it incredibly tempting to write this game off considering Atlanta no longer has Kovalchuk, but that’s the first step to getting the rug pulled out from under you, especially with the Olympic break looming so close too.

In any case, life without Ilya for the Thrashers has been so-so. They’re certainly holding their own, and without the firepower of a single player to rely on, minutes have been spread among all four lines at even strength. At the very least it’s becoming an interesting development, following the progress of the Thrashers in a post-Kovalchuk world. What will be difficult come tonight is figuring out what kind of team we’d be playing–without their star, anyone could be a threat to score.

Oduya seems to be a good addition to the team. In the last three games, the Thrashers have allowed just 1 power play goal in 16 shorthanded chances, with Oduya and Kubina eating up most of the PK time.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, will play tonight with something of a new look themselves. With Cam Barker getting traded to Minnesota for Kim Johnsson just before the Olympic roster freeze took effect yesterday, we can expect to see more of the same that we’ve seen from the men of four feathers, perhaps with a little bit of upgrade in the back end.

Kim Johnsson, this year’s trade deadline veteran acquisition and an upcoming UFA, logs big minutes for Minnesota and, at first glance, appears to be a solid addition to the Blackhawks’ defensive core. I don’t know just how much we’ll see of him tonight, considering he’s most likely to be taking Barker’s palce as Sopel’s defensive partner, but it would be interesting to see how his role develops over time. While not known as an offensive defenseman, Johnsson is considered by Wild fans as a decent cog in the Wild PP, contributing the “third assist” in jumpstarting plays.

As a bit of an aside, it’s a bit of a pity that Barker, whose strengths lay in the PP and who had been promised more time, would never get to redeem himself from an abysmal season in Chicago, but I do honestly think this trade works out for all parties involved. In Minnesota Barker will be able to find his minutes, and while I hope his departure never comes back to bite us in the ass, it would be nice to see him reach his potential in the NHL.

Niemi’s also starting tonight, the first time he starts thrice in a row. I don’t know if Quenneville’s decided to split the back-to-back games between Niemi and Huet or give Niemi all the starts before the Olympic break, but I do find myself wondering what a heavier workload would do to our baby Finnish goalie. We’re entering unchartered territory here, so keep in mind that his performance tomorrow, good or bad, is not going to be indicative of any trend one way or another.

Post-Kovalchuk Thrashers, meet the post-Barker Blackhawks. Game on.

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