Nov 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) is checked by Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Although, it won’t be much of a break, since they 10 of their players will be participating in Sochi, the Chicago Blackhawks will be looking to keep up their winning ways, heading into the Olympic break, with another victory, on the lengthy road trip. With a victory tonight, against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Blackhawks will complete the road trip, with a record of 4-0-2, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
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Statistically, the Blackhawks have the edge. The Coyotes have sort of switched philosophies, this season. In years past, Phoenix was a primarily defensive-minded team, this season there has been a shift. The Coyotes are scoring goals at a pretty solid rate, but are also giving up goals at a very high rate. Very un-head coach, Dave Tippet-like, but these could just be transitional growing pains, for the ‘Yotes. The Blackhawks Power Play has struggled a bit, recently, as the Penalty Kill has taken dramatic steps, forward. The Coyotes have the 27th ranked Power Play, so the Hawks should be able to take advantage.
The Coyotes are currently in 5th place, in the Pacific Division, but are very much in the hunt for a wild card spot, in this season’s playoffs. Phoenix has been hit or miss, lately, as they have gone 5-4-1, in their past 10 games.
While the Coyotes are scoring a lot, as a team, there hasn’t really been a huge standout offensive player. Their roster is pretty much sharing the offense equally. Captain, Shane Doan has missed some time, with injury, this season, but has had played like his usal consistent self, when on the ice. Mike Ribero leads the team, in points, with 39, while star defenseman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is 8th on the team, with 29 points. The consistency, without flashiness, is up and down the roster, with players like former Hawk, Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal, and Mikkel Boedeker.
In net, will likely be Mike Smith, for the Coyotes. This hasn’t been Smith’s best season, which might be a result of philosophy changes, in front of him. In 47 games, this season, Smith has a .910 save percentage.
The Blackhawks continue to at least hold on to the mirage, of 1st place, in the Central Division, with a 2 point lead, over the St. Louis Blues, who have played in 3 fewer games, than the Hawks. So far, on this road trip, the Hawks have gone a very good 3-0-2.
Tonight, the Hawks will be without the services of their most explosive offensive player, Patrick Kane, who flew back home to be with family, after the loss of his grandfather. Guys like Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad will have to step up, in Kane’s absence. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa contain enough star power, to propel the Hawks to a victory, on any given night. It will be much more difficult without Kane, though.
In net, will be Corey Crawford, for the Hawks. Crawford is coming off of his first shutout, of the season, a season that has been very good, when healthy, for Crawford. In 41 games, Crawford has put up a .916 save percentage.
The Hawks have to be careful not to be looking too far ahead of themselves, before the Olympic break, because they are facing a hungry Coyotes team, fighting for it’s playoff life. It should be a good game.