Blackhawks News

Team Record In Sight: Hawks Take On Pus—- uhh, Panthers

By Tim Currell

There’s a back-story with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers, as most of you know. Former Blackhawks player/broadcaster/scout/general manager Dale Tallon was hired to take over the GM post down in Miami. It can be argued that Tallon orchestrated the drafting and roster moves that won Chicago the Stanley Cup, and some people love him for that.

It can also be argued that Tallon accepted the GM position in Chicago despite being completely unqualified, was thrown into the deep end without a life jacket, made the draft picks any idiot could have made given the same circumstances, and got lucky with trades. I think the next five years in the Florida organ-eye-zation will illustrate exactly which of the two is closer to the truth.

Got to say this for the guy, however: he’s not sitting still. In the last month alone Tallon has traded for all of the following players: Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman, David Pacan, Ryan Carter, Alexander Sulzer, Tim Kennedy, Niclas Bergfors, Pat Rissmiller, Jake Hauswirth, Sergei Samsonov and Evan Oberg. Only five of those guys are in the lineup, but nobody will be able to fault Tallon for resting the bat on his shoulder.

The Panthers haven’t been a serious threat in the NHL since the days of John Vanbiesbrouck. To give you an idea of what Tallon is up against, if the Panthers miss the playoffs this season, that will be 10 in a row — and give them the all-time NHL record for that unenviable feat. At present, they sit 11 points out of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference, and are proud owners of a 5-game losing streak. Not my call, but they might want to think about ordering the plaque.

So what has Florida got going for it? Not much. Stephen Weiss leads the offense, though I wouldn’t exactly call 44 points “leading.” Their defense is anchored by Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver — yeah, that’s what I said too. And between the pipes is the talented but suffering netminder Tomas Vokoun. He sees more shots than he should on any given night, and it’s only through his heroic efforts that he is only 3 games short of a .500 record.

One curious stat about Florida is shot accuracy. They sit middle-of-the-pack for team shots on goal, but their goals-for stat is fourth-worst. They’re facing the same goalies that every other team faces, so they just can’t finish. Something to work on, there, Dale.

On the Blackhawks end, the train keeps a-rollin’. We’re sitting in fourth in the Western Conference Standings thanks to an 8-game winning streak, due in no small part to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane racking up points like they were playing against Pee-Wee girls. In addition to the superstars, we’ve also seen contributions in the last three games from Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, and Ryan Johnson. And speaking of Frolik, this is the first visit back to his old team after being shipped to the defending Stanley Cup Champions just prior to the trade deadline. If that were me, I think I’d be bringing Dale Tallon a muffin basket.

The defense has had their moments, but overall has been keeping the shot count down and letting Corey Crawford see the shooter. And speaking of Crawsome, the only question in the minds of Blackhawks fans these days is, does he need any rest? The worst thing we could do is to wear him out and make the playoffs, only to have him fizzle when it counts. Let’s hope Head Coach Joel Quenneville manages that process wisely.

The only fly in the ointment at present is that we are still waiting to get a straight answer about Duncan Keith’s injured hand. He blocked a shot in the 3rd period against Toronto, spent the rest of the game on the bench as a precaution, but is scheduled to play tonight. In typical fashion, the exact nature of his injury is still unknown. So we’re going to assume that his hand has been amputated and replaced with one like they gave Luke Skywalker.

Administrative nonsense: it’s actually a shorter list to tell you who *is* playing for the Florida Panthers tonight, as the team is suffering the injury bug big time. The only one that will likely interest Blackhawks fans is Jack Skille, who will not be playing due to a high ankle sprain. To help fill the gaping void, young Sabres/Rangers flame-out Tim Kennedy, acquired last month by the Panthers, has cleared re-entry waivers and will be in the lineup this evening. The Blackhawks will likely start the same lineup as they have been during this 9-1-0 stretch, with Fernando Pisani and John Scott sitting in the press box. Corey Crawford gets the start for Chicago, Tomas Vokoun for Florida.

Oh, and in case a non-conference game against a barely-qualified challenger doesn’t interest you, here’s an incentive: a 9-game winning streak would tie a Blackhawks team record.

6:30pm puck drop this evening: Comcast SportsNet has your TV coverage, WGN AM-720 with the radio broadcast, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 209.

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