It’s been an exciting few days for Blackhawks fans, as we wound down the Circus Trip with four wins, our star winger got injured at practice, and the phrase “goalie controversy” threatened to rear its ugly head again. But we’ll get to that in a minute. The task at hand are the boys in blue and gold, and game time is not even 12 hours away.
St. Louis has been one of the surprise teams of the season so far. Following the off-season acquisition of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, the Blues got out of the gate on a tear, going 9-1-2 in the first 12 games. The Blues managed to take 3 out of 4 points from the Blackhawks in that stretch, losing in OT on October 18 but taking a 4-2 win on home ice four days later.
All looked right with the world, but the Blues now find themselves behind the Blackhawks in the Central Division standings. They polished off the 3-6-1 stretch they currently find themselves in by getting swept in a home-and-home with Dallas last weekend — blowing third period leads in both games.
What went wrong? Injuries, partly. Forward David Perron suffered a concussion after taking an elbow to the noggin from the Sharks’ Joe Thornton on November 5th; and youngster-powerhouse T.J. Oshie broke his ankle in the Columbus tilt the following week. Both are still out of the lineup. Hard to fault the goaltenders either: with a combined GAA below 2.50, Halak and backup Ty Conklin are stopping the pucks.
Support needs to come from up front. During this last three weeks, it isn’t. The games against Dallas were close, but three of the previous five losses were by three-goal margins — or bigger.The Blues are in the bottom fifth of the league for both goals-for and power play conversions, and only two (count them, TWO) players on the team have more than five goals.
For the purposes of illustration, five players on the Blackhawks have more than five goals, and furthermore four of those players have more points than the leading scorer on the Blues. We are coming off the annual How-Many-Road-Games-Can-You-Squeeze-Into-A-Volkswagen trip, taking four out of six games, scoring four or more goals in three of them, and welcoming a new uncertainty between the pipes.
Veteran netminder Marty Turco took three starts on the west coast swing, losing two of them. “Rookie” Corey Crawford took three starts, and won them all. His GAA for those three games was below 1.00 — his save percentage was equally startling. All of a sudden we have the beginnings of a goalie controversy brewing, with calls going out through the Blackhawks’ blogosphere to “ride Crawford while he’s hot” and “give him as many starts as he can handle.”
Blackhawks’ Coach Joel Quenneville has already announced that Crawford will get his third straight start tonight against the Blues. Is Crawford ready for the big time? Does Turco deserve to be relegated to a platoon or backup role? Is this Cristobal Huet/Antti Niemi all over again? Stay tuned.
But of more imminent concern to Blackhawks fans is Monday’s fuck-up by rented red-headed step-defenseman Nick Boynton, who managed to do his best Randy Gardner impersonation by crashing into teammate Marian Hossa at practice — AND INJURING HIM.
Reports from the rink say Boynton and Hossa were skating opposite directions, Boynton skating backwards and then turning towards the net. Neither player saw the other, they collided, and were down on the ice for “a few moments” before getting up. Boynton apparently had the wind knocked out of him, but continued with practice right away. Hossa was helped off the ice, favoring his right leg, was taken directly to the dressing room and did not return.
Today after practice the team announced that Hossa is out for 2 – 3 weeks with a lower-body injury. Just the thing the Hawks need as they start to get their mojo back in sync. The Blackhawks have recalled Jeremy Morin (17 GP – 6 G, 3 A, 32 PIM) from the Rockford Ice Hogs; we’ll see how he fits in with the squad as they try to absorb this latest round of bad news.
Fun, huh? What next — Coach Q gets offered a job with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Patrick Kane gets treated for a hangnail during a game? This is getting ridiculous.
More late-breaking administrative nonsense: Fernando Pisani is still listed as day-to-day, but will sit again tonight; John Scott will take a wing on the fourth line and perhaps give an encore of his Kevin Westgarth beat-down from Saturday; and the Blues will start Ty Conklin in net this evening, not wanting their beloved starter to suffer the humiliation of another crushing loss.
Unusual puck drop time of 7:00pm here in Chicago, and some outlets actually are promoting the wrong time. 7:00pm is correct. Additionally, this is an actual Versus-only TV broadcast — no blackout for local stations as they usually do. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 207.