We have yet to see the San Jose Sharks in the United Center, but the oddities of the NHL schedule have the Blackhawks climbing aboard a plane to visit the HP Pavilion on Saturday to take on Todd McLellan’s squad once more. Hope the boys brought more than just their Speedos.
Our last time swimming with the Sharks they smelled chum in the water, sunk their teeth into Marty Turco and wouldn’t let go, potting goals from Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Jamal Mayers and Patrick Marleau. Antti Niemi had the last laugh against his former team, making 30 saves and coming away with a 5 – 2 win.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the Sharks are an unremarkable team. They are fourth in the Pacific Division, right on the cusp of earning a playoff spot, and they could win or lose on any given night against any team, no matter how lousy their opponent. Their goaltending is mediocre, with a save percentage just south of .900; their top six forwards are producing — but NOBODY else is; and while Heatley, Marleau and Joe Thornton are all north of 20 points, their +/- numbers are as follows: +1, -16, and -7.
Long and short, there is no reason we can’t beat this team, with one possible exception. Rookie Logan Couture sits atop the leader board in rookie scoring, both points and goals (14 + 7 = 21), and third in plus-minus to boot. The kid is almost literally on fire, with (brace yourself) six goals and two assists in his last five games. His four game-winning goals puts him tied for second in the league, and not just among rookies. If we’re going to try to contain anybody tonight, it should be this guy.
Uhh, and Stan? Mr. Bowman sir? Couture’s contract is up after next season. Start planning to drop a 10-year, $100 million offer sheet in his lap. Doug Wilson wants to play that game? We’ll can play too. Fuck-job traitor asshole.
On the Blackhawks’ end, little has changed from the news of the last several days. Two of our top scoring forwards in Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa are both out with lower-body injuries; utility forward Fernando Pisani is also in the press box — or more accurately, not making the trip at all; and our starting goaltender is now (essentially) our back-up goaltender, and vice-versa, as Coach Joel Quenneville “rides the hot hand” in youngster Corey Crawford who has won his last 7 consecutive starts and is now among the top 20 goaltenders in both goals-against and save percentage (among netminders with 10 or more starts).
Crawford would have to be considered the biggest pleasant surprise of this season, but there are more. 19-year-old rookie newcomer Jeremy Morin has only 6 NHL games to his credit in the last two weeks, but notched his first tally in the big leagues against Dallas on Wednesday. He’s nothing but hustle out on the ice, and he’s making a strong case for the Blackhawks to keep him with the club even after the return of our walking wounded. Let’s hope they do, because both Morin’s point totals and his plus-minus are higher than John Scott’s, despite having played fewer than one-third the number of games.
Additionally, the “thriving on adversity” spirit of this team is starting to return. Last season the thing that was often times inspiring about the Blackhawks was seeing them come together and having the role players turn up the jets when the stars were in their street clothes. We saw Troy Brouwer, Bryan Bickell and most encouragingly Dave Bolland get on the scoresheet with substantial contributions in the last 10 days, including 4 points in the last two games from Bolland. That’s the kind of thing we need to see from everyone on the bench if this team is going to continue its push towards the playoffs.
Finally, there are few superlatives that do justice to the play of Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews. His play of late is like watching a strange mixture of Mario Lemieux and Tie Domi. On one shift he is powering up the ice and making plays or burying shots, the next he is picking opposing forwards’ pockets from behind and smashing some defenseman’s jaw into the glass. He is startlingly fast, doggedly persistent, and taking charge of the team and the game with his first stride. He is doing what’s needed with Kane and Hossa out of the lineup, and something tells me he is headed for career-highs in scoring categories this season.
The only surprise in the morning news was that Jeremy Morin was recalled from Rockford — by himself. This means that we will likely see defenseman Jordan Hendry playing wing tonight opposite defenseman John Scott on the other wing. The silver lining in this is the rumored call-up Ryan Potulny will stay in Rockford to enjoy the sleet and freezing rain.
Late start on the west coast tonight, puck drops at 9:30 Chicago time. TV is back to normal on Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers look for the game on channel 205.