Finally, after tonight’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Chicago Blackhawks get to return to Chicago, for the first time since November 17th. It might be easy for the Blackhawks to look past this game, since they are so close to returning home, so this might be a tough matchup, mentally as well as physically.
Statistically, this is a bizarre matchup. Traditionally the Coyotes are a tight defensive-minded team, under Head Coach Dave Tippet’s system. They don’t score a lot, but they also don’t let in many goals, and it has gotten them all the way to the Western Conference Finals, back in 2011-2012. However, so far this season, the Coyotes have been practically the opposite, but it has lead to success, so far. Looking at the special teams, one would expect to see at least one power play goal, in this game. Both teams are very comparable, in just about every category, with the exception of Corsi For Percentage. The dreaded predictor of pretenders is predicting the Coyotes to be pretenders, at this point in time. This writer thinks that unless the Coyotes get back to their traditional formula for success, they will be on the outside looking in, come playoff time. However, perhaps they are evolving as a team, and if so, missing the playoffs may end up being a growing pain, of the process.
The Coyotes are an outstanding 9-1-2 at home, and are off to one of the better starts, in franchise history, which has them in 4th place, and firmly in the playoff conversation, in the Pacific Division. The Coyotes are lead by long-time captain, Shane Doan, who is not exactly a favorite of the Hawks, or their fans. All-world, superstar defensman Oliver Ekman-Larsoon, a player who isn’t given the recognition that he deserves, nationally. Former Hawk, Radim Vrbata is also having a very nice season, as he and Martin Hanzal lead the team in points.
In net, the Coyotes are experiencing another solid season from Mike Smith, even though he has a 3.02 Goals Against Average. Smith also boasts a solid .911 Save Percentage, so the high GAA is likely a testament to the Coyotes’ poor defensive play.
The Blackhawks are the team everyone expected to be, just without the “Stanley Cup hangover”. Although, the Hawks will have to play much better than they did, in Dallas, lat night, if they want to get a win in Phoenix. Patrick Kane’s career best points scored streak was halted at 12 games, last night. It isn’t just Kane putting up the points, though, it’s the whole roster. Jonathan Toews already has 24 points, as well as one of the best all-around games, in the NHL. Patrick Sharp is doing what’s expected of him, as is Marian Hossa, when he’s healthy. Duncan Keith more points, from the blueline, than any player on the Coyotes’ roster.
Rest is a beautiful thing, as Corey Crawford proved, last night, in Dallas. However, Crawford will be in net again tonight, against the Coyotes, so his performance will be interesting to watch.
This game has all the makings of a let down, for the Hawks. End of the circus trip, 2 games in 2 nights, Phoenix dominates at home, and overall fatigue. However, is there’s one team in the NHL that you cannot count out of anything, it’s the Blackhawks. This should be a good game!