Blackhawks vs. Coyotes Preview 11/29/2011

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Returning to the United Center ice for the first time in 16 days, the Blackhawks are looking for their third straight win taking on the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at 7:30.  After going 3-3 on their annual circus trip, fans and analysts know the same about the team now add they did before the trip, which is very little at all.

In victories over Vancouver and Los Angeles they looked like the deadliest team in the NHL controlling the puck most of the game and rolling all four lines.  In embarassing defeats to Calgary and Edmonton though, the Hawks failed to show up and got completely run over.  While this Jekyll and Hyde act is nothing new for the Hawks, it is frustrating for fans and players alike to go through these periods.

If there are any positives you can take away from it though it’s that this Hawks team snaps out of its funks quickly and thus far has been able to reel off several wins after a losing streak.

You never want to call a game critical, but a win tonight will go a long way in restoring the faith of Blackhawks nation.  The next 10 of 14 games for the Hawks are on United Center ice in which they hold a 7-1-2 record.  The strong play at home and the sense of urgency the Hawks ought to play with in their United Center return will make it difficult for Phoenix to pull out a win. 

While the Coyotes are a talented group, they have struggled to find success this year. With talk of long time captain Shane Doan as potential trade bait, the Coyotes are a team in need of an urgent spark to turn their ship around.  The Hawks have a tendency to play down to their opponents playing level instead of coming out and forcing the other team to play their style of hockey against weaker teams.  However, the Hawks have historically done well against Phoenix and will look to build upon their past success.

However, it remains to be seen which Hawks team will show up tinight, making this evenings matchup that much more critical in building momentum

Injury Report: After missing a few players throughout the circus trip, the Blackhawks do not have any injuries to report.  The Coyotes will be without Defenseman Michael Rosival who is out with an upper body injury.

Players to Watch: Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa are expected to be reunited on the second line where they found much success earlier this season.

Prediction: Blackhawks 3 – Coyotes 2

Blackhawks vs. Flames Preview 11/18/2011

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Coming off a convincing 5-1 victory against Vancouver, the Blackhawks look to extend their winning streak to 5 games tonight as they visit the Calgary Flames.  Perhaps the most noteworthy headline from this game is the return of forward Ben Smith to the Chicago lineup.  Being the unanimous choice amongst the Hawks brass, much speculation has occurred since Rostislav Olesz was waived on Tuesday as to where Ben Smith will fit in this lineup.

Smith became an instant favorite for Hawks fans in their first round match up against Vancouver for his gritty play and his ability to score key goals (see game 6 game winning goal).  If it wasn’t for a concussion this preseason, Smith would likely already be playing for the club.

With the struggles of Bryan Bickell as of late and the success of the fourth line, Smith figures to replace Bickell on the third line alongside Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik.  Frolik took a hard fall in the middle of the third against Vancouver and did not return to the game after that.  His status for tonight’s game is questionable.  If Frolik can’t go look for the third line to be Smith-Bolland-Bickell.

The Flames and the Blackhawks met one week ago with Chicago running over the Flames with a 4-1 victory.

The lack of scoring has plagued the Flames all season long and has led to speculation that the organization is preparing to completely overhaul the team and begin a rebuilding process.  Calgary has only two players who have reached double digit point totals so far, star Jarome Iginla not included.  Compare that to the Hawks who have six players with double digit points.

With back to back games this weekend, look for Ray Emery to get the start tonight as he owns a 3-1-1 record with a 1.19 GAA against Calgary in his career.

Players to Watch: Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa both have 8 points during this 4 game win streak.  Steve Montador (4 goals and 6 points during streak). Patrick Sharp (3 assists against Calgary on 11/11/11).

Injury Report: Brent Seabrook will miss his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury.  Michael Frolik remains questionable after crashing into the boards during the third period against Vancouver on Wednesday.  For the Flames, defenseman Anton Babchuk and forward Brendan Morrison are on injured reserve while forward David Moss is questionable with a lower-body injury after missing Tuesday’s matchup with Ottawa.

Prediction: With the struggles the Flames have had in both the offensive and defensive zone it will be difficult for them to generate many chances against a hot Hawks team that has shut down opponents offensive attacks during their 4 game win streak.  The one downside to this match up is that the Hawks are prone to falling flat against weaker teams after performing brilliantly against tough opponents the game before.  If the Hawks don’t bring the same level of intensity that they have had during this 4 game streak, this game could be a lot closer than some may think.  However, since the 2008-2009 season the Hawks have had much success against the Flames going 15-4-0 against them.

Blackhawks 5 – Flames 3

Blackhawks vs. Canucks Preview 11/16/2011

Oh boy do we have a show in store for hockey fans tonight. If you’re new to the game or don’t have much exposure, this game, this rivalry, is exactly the way to be introduced or re-introduced to hockey.

Meeting for the second time this year, both teams are coming into this matchup on a hot streak with the Blackhawks winning their past 3 games and the Canucks winning the past 3 of 4. 10 days ago the teams met at the United Center where the Blackhawks failed to show up getting drilled by the Canucks 6-2. Many Hawks fans had high expectations prior to the first matchup. The lack of grit allowed the 2010-2011 Hawks team to get pushed around by Vancouver throughout their epic 7-game series this past year. With the additions of “gritty” veterans such as Jamal Mayers, Daniel Carcillo, Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell, and with players like Bryan Bickell finally discovering his ability to deliver crushing hits, this game was supposed to be revenge for Hawks fans.

View from my seats right before puck drop, Hawks vs. Canucks 11/6

Didn’t happen. Hawks fell flat and this team eerily looked like the same Hawks team that was out-skated, out-hit, out-everything by Vancouver last playoffs. The Hawks managed to continue this funk by getting shut out by St. Louis 3-0 two days later before finally breaking out against Columbus with a 6-3 victory that saw Coach Q rolling all 4 lines and someone on the defense not named Nick Leddy step up and deliver some goals.

This is a different Blackhawks team than the Canucks faced 10 days ago. With the breakout play from Steve Montador and the rejuvenation of Duncan Keith, this Hawks team is playing the same style of play that gave the Canucks fits during their past playoff matches. Look for tonight’s game to be a much tighter and for the Hawks special teams to be much more effective. After giving up 5 power play goals to the Canucks, the Hawks have been penalized 11 times while yielding 4 goals. While you would like the Hawks penalty kill to be able to have a better percentage of killing off penalties, the fact that the Hawks have only been on the PK 11 times is showing they are playing a more disciplined game.

After going 5/62 to start the year, the Blackhawks power play has gone 5/11 the past 3 games. While finally being able to find the back of the net on the man advantage, the Hawks have also been able to keep the puck in the offensive zone for a much longer time while keeping the defense on their toes by abandoning the backdoor pass that has failed time and time again. Look for the Hawks to try and weather the early storm Vancouver will put on in front of a loud and rowdy Rogers Centre.

Players to Watch: Steve Montador (4 points in 3 games), Jonathan Toews (5 points in 3 games), and Dan Carcillo (21 PIM last game against Vancouver).

Injury Report: The Blackhawks will be without Brent Seabrook tonight as he is out with a lower body injury while center Dave Bolland is questionable with a lower body injury as well. The Canucks will start Corey Schneider tonight with Roberto Luongo being sidelined with an upper body injury. Forwards Andrew Ebbett and Steve Pinizzotto are listed as day to day with upper body injuries while forward Byron Bitz is out indefinitely with a hip injury.

Prediction: Whenever the Hawks travel to Vancouver it is always a tight contest. Losing Seabrook and potentially being without Bolland will be huge tonight in countering a powerful Canucks offense. Unlike their last meeting though, the Hawks have become a more cohesive group and are playing with more confidence. If they can weather the early attack that the Canucks are to bring, they should be able to garner enough chances to defeat their foes.

Hawks 4 – Canucks 2