After a Florida/Eastern Conference tour on the schedule, the Chicago Blackhawks return to playing games with playoff implications, with tonight’s matchup with their Central Division foe, the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild have won have won two games in a row, and are currently sitting in a reasonably comfortable 4th place, in the Central Division, with a record of 5-3-3 (13 points). Last season, the Wild barely made the playoffs, only to be knocked out in 5 games, by the Blackhawks. Many think that the Wild needed time to gel as a team, since many of them had never played together, on the same team before. The lockout shortened season, made it difficult for them to seriously gel, but now that they have an 82-game schedule to work with, they could very well be a team to watch, in the Central Division.
The Wild are lead by last season’s big free-agent acquisitions, in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Long-time Wild, Mikko Koivu is also off to a quietly good start to the season, as is Suter’s defensive partner Jonas Brodin. Regular starting goaltender, Niklas Backstrom has struggled to stay healthy this season, meanwhile backup Josh Harding has picked up the bulk of the playing-time, to much success. However, in a sort of flip-flop of bad luck, Harding came down with an injury, in the last game, and Backstrom has returned to the net. The Wild will have a big test tonight, in Chicago, and they are undoubtedly hungry to beat the team that knocked them out of the playoffs, last season.
The Blackhawks continue to find ways to earn points, but rarely is it truly “pretty”. Older veteran, complimentary players have struggled in recent losses, as the Hawks have called up forward Jeremy Morin and Brad Mills, from the Rockford IceHogs, of the AHL. Morin and Mills will be replacing Michal Handzus and Ben Smith, respectively, for this game at least. The Hawks usual suspects have continued to produce at their high levels of expectancy, which is what’s helped the Hawks survive some of the poor play from the older, complimentary player’s mistakes.
Patrick Kane has been electric, all season, and he leads the team in points, followed closely by the captain, Jonathan Toews. In net, tonight, for the Hawks, will be Corey Crawford, who is well-rested after getting the night off, in the last game, against the Tampa Bay Lightening. While the Hawks are getting points, it is important for them to start compiling consecutive game of quality hockey, and then more points will come.
It’ll be nice to see some Divisional play, because while many won’t admit it, Divisional games are far more important than non-divisional games. The Hawks are looking to play some truly quality 60-minute hockey games, while the Wild want some playoff revenge, against the Hawks. It should be a great game!