Saturday night’s Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild match-up is very different: The two teams are meeting for the first time since Chicago knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs last year. It is also their first meeting as members of the new Central Division. It also marks the start of a double-header between the two clubs, with the second game coming in Minnesota on Monday Night. The Wild are going into the contest with two significant injuries: Last year’s rookie standout, Jonas Brodin, is out indefinitely with a broken cheekbone, and goaltender Josh Harding suffered a lower-body injury in the Wild’s last game. Nevertheless, Minnesota won’t be an easy four points, and to get a couple of wins the Blackhawks will need to take care of these three players.
#3: Matt Cooke
Matt Cooke is in his first year with the Wild, after splitting his career between the Vancouver Canucks, and most recently, the Pittsburgh Penguins. A controversial figure, Cooke has faced suspensions for questionable hits before, but has tried to shake that reputation and become an offensive contributor like he was in his younger days. Cooke has scored three goals and has eight points already this year, one-third of what he attained last season. Playing on a line with Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak means they won’t be out there with the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairings, and they pose a threat if they get sustained pressure in the offensive zone. To take care of Cooke, Chicago must win faceoffs, and use their speed to enter the zone. If he starts playing physical, the ‘Hawks must stand their ground, and not get sucked up into doing something undisciplined, as we all know, the penalty-kill isn’t where it needs to be so far.
#2: Mikael Granlund
Just as Blackhawk Brandon Saad and Wild teammate Jonas Brodin did in 2013, Mikael Granlund kicked his career off with a strong rookie season. Granlund was spared the limelight due to the aforementioned Brodin, and he quickly grew to be an underrated offensive contributor. The 21-year old has notched 5 assists so far this year, just one shy of last years totals. At 5’10″, Granlund appears to be venerable, but combats that with great toughness and work ethic. Granlund will look to shine down on the depth chart, and a slippery player on the third or fourth line is known to cause havoc with any defensive group. Granlund will be controlled by a strong back-check by the Blackhawks’ forwards, but again, he won’t be able to cause any damage if he doesn’t have the puck. Taking away passing lanes will be key, as Granlund has a pass-first mentality. Sticks will need to be active, and any chance to lay the body will be worth it.
#1: Jason Pominville
Jason Pominville is another fairly new face on the Wild’s roster, after a trade from the Buffalo Sabres sent him there at last year’s deadline. Pominville left a struggling Sabres organization in hopes of performing alongside better players, and having more success in his career. His 31 points last year put him as a player that gets on the score sheet at least once every couple of games, and with four goals this season, he looks to be in the column marked “G”. Pominville’s hockey sense is his best asset, and finding open ice won’t be a problem for the 30-year old, if the Blackhawks give it to him. He needs players like the aforementioned Granlund to set him up, however, as he will have trouble trying to generate and offense by himself. The Blackhawks will need to keep tabs on him all game, and take away his chances with the puck by tipping passes, or making solid checks. Blocking shots will be a huge asset to the team as well, as Corey Crawford could face a lot of rubber tonight.
You can view tonight’s game on WGN, and Monday night’s game will be on CSN-Chicago. Both games start at 7PM Central Time.
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