Has it really been seven months?
Seven months and twelve days, to be exact. The rosters have changed somewhat, the puck is still missing, and Chris Pronger is still a consummate fucktard. Philadelphia still has goaltending problems, Chicago is still relying on a rookie netminder to carry the load, and I think we’ll see later today that these two teams still hate each other’s living guts.
A lot is the same with the Flyers in so many ways since the Blackhawks hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup in front of the disgusted crowd in Philly. Their top guns are lighting it up, with Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, and Jeff Carter all above 40 points. They still get substantial goal support from the rank and file, with nine players at or above 20 points, and another four within immediate striking distance. And they still play a physical, punishing game: six players have in excess of 40 penalty minutes, two of whom are at 96 and 108.
But goaltending — the Achilles’ heel of the Flyers for the last two decades, if you asked me — continues to be a question mark. Last year’s playoff hero, former Blackhawk draft pick Michael Leighton, is now enjoying the view from the window of the team bus with the minor league affiliate Adirondack Phantoms. That leaves the duties between the pipes to a tandem of hit-and-mostly-miss veteran Brian Boucher, and stingy but largely unproven rookie Sergey Bobrovski.
To date, this duo has backstopped Filthy-delphia to a 31-12-5 record, good for first place in the Eastern Conference. But these two can still get lit up for five or six goals on any given night. To that point, the Flyers are fresh off a 3 – 1 loss to bottom-feeding New Jersey just yesterday. Consistency, it seems, is still elusive.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, look like a team who just had five days off. Oh, wait. They *did* have five days off! They took the ice against Detroit (*spitting noise*) on Saturday, and with the exception of a fluky goal in the first, the ‘Hawks played a solid offensive and defensive game in defeating the Red Wings 4 – 1 on goals from Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, and a pair from Tomas Kopecky. A 36-save performance from rookie netminder Corey Crawford didn’t hurt things either, and two successful efforts on the PK added icing to the cake in front of the Hockeytown crowd.
And speaking of Brouwer, Bolland and Kopecky, those are three of the eight names on the list of players who have reached the 10-goal threshold for the Blackhawks. When the stars have taken some time off, as it appears our four marquee offensive assets have of late, we need the middle-tier to step up their games and deliver. That’s exactly what’s been happening, and it’s an encouraging sign to see as the All-Star break looms large.
The Blackhawks will have four players participating in the weekend-long hero-worship orgy, and on Friday Patrick Kane was named as an Assistant Captain for the Niklas Lidstrom-led team at the event. Kane indicated after the tilt on Saturday that Lidstrom had asked him on the ice who he should be picking first when the draft is held this Friday. His response: “Anyone but (Jonathan) Toews.” Cute.
Expect some roster shuffling for the Sunday game, as it has been suggested that Coach Joel Quenneville will want to ensure we have enough toughness on the bench to deter any of the Flyer hooligans from getting out of hand. So, despite their overall ueslessness in other areas, don’t be surprised to see John Scott and Nick Boynton in uniform on Sunday. More’s the pity.
It’s the earliest start to a Blackhawks game this season to accommodate the whims of NBC programming executives: 11:30am puck drop at the United Center. NBC has the national broadcast, WGN AM-720 for local radio, and XM subscribers should tune in to the game on channel 207.
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