Blackhawks News

Let’s Try This Again, Shall We? Hawks/Panthers

By Tim Currell

A little over two weeks ago, a cocky Blackhawks team took their 8-game winning streak for a little sun and fun in Miami, and promptly got their asses handed to them in a 3-goal first period melt-down that resulted in a 3 – 2 loss to the team sitting 26th out of 30 in the league. It was the anemic start to a dismal 3-game road trip that yielded a mere two out of a possible six points. Humiliating. Eye-opening. Infuriating.

It’s time to get some payback, gentlemen.

We should never have lost that game, and there’s a very simple reason why: Florida (and I’m using the technical term here, so bear with me) sucks. The Panthers are in rebuilding mode under GM Dale Tallon, who was busy shuffling off contracts and acquiring draft picks at the trade deadline. The plus/minus column on the team stats sheet looks like a lesson in how to count backwards from zero. And they are riddled with injuries, missing six roster players including (in all likelihood) leading scorer Stephen Weiss.

The only bright light on this team of dim bulbs is goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who struggles mightily to keep his team in every game despite very little goal support up front. Their last game was a perfect example: the unimpressive NY Rangers pounded Vokoun with 33 shots, netting only one goal, but still winning 1 – 0. This guy has got to be counting the minutes until June 30th at midnight, when his contract expires and he can say goodbye to the NHL’s Coppertone-greased armpit.

This game is BUTT SIMPLE to win: play solid defense; don’t take dumb penalties; play our puck-possession game; and take advantage of their mistakes and our power-plays. But nothing is ever that simple in Chief Blackhawk’s tribe…

Patrick Sharp is out, Dave Bolland is out, Brian Campbell is a probable to play, but let’s not get our hopes up — we all know what happened last time he was “probable.” So provided Bryan Bickell can keep his lunch in his stomach today, we’ll have John Scott back on defense, and the new kid will likely be… Wait. What? What ‘new kid?’

Meet Marcus Kruger, a 20-year-old center who will have been in North America all of about 27 hours when he suits up with the #16 Blackhawks jersey for his NHL debut against the Panthers. Kruger is being billed as a fast, play-making, two-way center, and his 29 assists in 52 games in the Swedish Elite League this season would tend to support that.

The only problem is, this is Kruger’s first exposure to North American hockey (aside from the Blackhawks’ prospect camp this past summer, he missed the full training camp with an injured foot). Will his ‘fast’ be fast enough for the NHL? Is he about to get swatted like a mosquito by these herculean defensemen? Nobody has any idea, not even him. This could be a brilliant move, or this could be a complete waste of time. The only way we’ll know is to let him get out there and see what happens.

GM Stan Bowman is singing the song that calling up Kruger was planned all year long, once the lad’s season with Djurgardens IF was over. But that’s a sour tune: we all know full well he would have landed in Rockford if Dave Bolland had not been suffering from Vitiligo. But following the morning skate, Head Coach Joel Quenneville said that the kid looked “hungry for the puck,” and with his fast style and European passing touch, he may find himself with Marion Hossa on one wing and Tomas Kopecky or Michael Frolik on the other. I just hope they put the kid in a position to succeed, no matter where he ends up playing.

In the who’s-hot, who’s not department, it’s really a crap shoot. The last outing against Phoenix all of our offense came from the defense, and before that it was the testicle-shrinking effort against Dallas. You have to go back nine days to the San Jose game, when all of the usual suspects got on the score sheet.

One line combination to watch for: Viktor Stalberg is the lucky winner of Patrick Sharp’s spot on the first line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. His effort in that position was good enough against Phoenix that we will see him continue there again tonight. No formally-announced starter as of this writing, but I think it’s safe to say that Corey Crawford will be starting in goal. I also think that, barring a disastrous performance or injury, we will be repeating that phrase for every game the rest of the regular season. That’s just Q’s way.

The puck drops at 7:30pm tonight. Comcast SportsNet has your TV coverage, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720 as usual, and XM subscribers should turn to hear the game on channel 206.

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