Today is the kick-off to the most grueling part of the Blackhawks’ season: five games over seven days, starting with three opponents hovering just above them in the Western Conference standings. Today’s opponent is the Phoenix Coyotes, who recently wrapped up an 8-game winning streak that included a 3 – 2 shootout win against Chicago. It was this stretch of solid play that propelled them to fourth place in the West.
This is a big one for the Blackhawks, and we owe these pukes. But how do we derail this train?
The backbone of this team, and their recent winning streak, is goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. His GAA over his last 9 games is just below 2, with a save percentage of 0.934. It’s not about defense, because the Coyotes give up 30+ shots per game very regularly — like, every single game over the last 7. It’s all about goaltending. Beat Bryzgalov, and you beat the Coyotes. It’s as simple as that.
Offense is spread wide, but is not impressive. Their leading scorers, with a mere 16 goals each, are Radim Vrbata, Scottie Upshall, and Taylor Pyatt. The Blackhawks have four players above that level, and three more knocking on the door. The team is fast, but is weak on special teams — something we exploited during our last meeting by tallying two power-play goals. The Blackhawks will have every opportunity to beat this team: they just have to decide they want to.
Desire has been on display from the Blackhawks’ top line of late: Jonathan Toews has been carrying the team on his back for some stretches this season, but he has now two willing accomplices in newly-reunited linemates Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. The three have combined for 12 goals and 18 assists in the last 8 games. Combine that with outstanding goaltending from rookie netminder Corey Crawford and there is the potential that we could extend this 5 -1-2 streak into a playoff run.
There are some changes to report. If you’ve not been keeping track here on BlackhawkUp.com (first of all, shame on you!), you will be buoyed by the news that perpetual fuck-up Nick Boynton was placed on waivers Friday, and claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. One man’s trash, it appears. So it was announced on Saturday that recalling Nick Leddy from Rockford is now a permanent change, he will not be doing the I-90 Shuffle any more. That leaves us with 5 dedicated defensemen on the roster, plus Jordan Hendry and John Scott in the utility player roles, for now.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has made no secret of the fact that he would like to acquire a penalty-killing defenseman before Monday’s trade deadline. Rumors were swirling around three players in particular, but one of those options was eliminated when Buffalo captain Craig Rivet was claimed off waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets. That leaves two primary targets, the most attractive of which is Brett Clark of the Tampa Bay Lightning. As of this writing, no deal has been made. But it is possible that by Wednesday we will have a new face wearing the Indian Head sweater. Stay tuned to BlackhawkUp on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest.
Family-friendly 6:00pm start at the United Center tonight. The NHL Network has the broadcast nationwide, unless you’re in the Chicago blackout zone — your coverage is on WGN. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can tune in on channel 206.
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