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Back to the Grind: Blackhawks @ Islanders Game Preview

March 2, 2010

Game Time: 6:00 PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN-CH / WGN (720-AM)
Know Thy Enemy: Lighthouse Hockey

Stat Pack:

Blackhawks Islanders
L10
6-3-1 2-8-0
Record on the Road: 18-9-3 at Home: 16-12-2
PP% 19.3% (8th) 14.8% (30th)
PK 84.4% (6th) 76.0% (T-27th)

It’s been two days since one of the best and most-watched hockey games ever performed, and we’re one day away from this year’s trade deadline. Three Blackhawks have won gold, Patrick Kane got silver for the USA, and for all the surrounding hype and awe over hockey I find that I’ve got to preview an Islanders game. (No offense to the Isles–anything after that gold medal game would have been anticlimactic.)

Anyway!

When the Blackhawks face the Islanders in Nassau Coliseum tonight, none of the Islanders, with the exception of Mark Streit, will have played since February 14. The Blackhawks, meanwhile will be dressing 6 players who played 6 or 7 games during the NHL’s two-week Olympic break.

There are two ways to look at this: either the Islanders will be caught trying to get their legs on them and the Blackhawks cruise to a win in their first game back, or the Blackhawks will be completely gassed from playing some of the most intense hockey we’ve ever seen in the last few days that the Islanders are able to roll over them to get the win.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Blackhawks’ Olympians will run out of fuel on their first day back. They probably will further down the road, which is why Quenneville should take care to watch his players’ minutes in this 21-game stretch to the end of the regular season. Tonight’s game will be about finding a balance between using the non-Olympians’ fresh legs and taking advantage of the Olympians’ non-rustiness.

And while the Blackhawks face back-to-back games soon after their return to action, it is, I guess, a lucky break that they will be facing teams like the Islanders and the Oilers. Not that either should be taken lightly–after all, the Blackhawks haven’t beaten the Isles in seven years. (Of course, there were about only 5 games played in that span, including a complete letdown game last season at the United Center.) The Islanders will also be gunning for a playoff spot, after a fairly strong run midway through the season that ended in a 2-8-0 skid. I don’t know how the Islanders did it either, as they have one of the worst special teams among the league–but I guess taking some of the fewest penalties helps a bit. John Tavares has had a strong middle of the season but he’s fallen off in production somewhere along the way, and the Calder Trophy, which was never really undeniably his to lose, is even further from his grasp now. What the Isles have, however, are surprise performances from people like Matt Moulson, and solid seasons from guys like Mark Streit and Andy Sutton.

Antti Niemi will be in net for the Hawks, and I’m holding off on saying anything until we see how he plays in the next few games. Quenneville mentioned wanting to get Huet some time in net as well, though he’s reluctant to switch goalies up while the team is winning–regardless of how those wins were achieved.

We won’t know what we’ll get until the puck drops, though. But here’s a bold prediction, based on previous observations about the Blackhawks’ special teams: Tonight, the New York Islanders will score on a power play.

(Feel free to flame me if it does happen, but mostly I’m just hoping to reverse-jinx them.)

Welcome back, Blackhawks.

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