Game Preview: Chicago Blackhawks Set to Face Much Improved Philadelphia Flyers


Dec 11, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Philadelphia Flyers right wing Matt Read (24) shoots the puck against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Much has changed since the last time the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers last faced off, on December 11th, 2013, when the Blackhawks blew out the Flyers, by a score of 7-2.  The Blackhawks have relatively stayed the same, as they are still frimly entrenched in the Central Division playoff race, but now are battling for 2nd place, as they have fallen to 3rd.  The Flyers, who were a struggeling team, trying to find it’s identity, after an early season coaching change, have gone 22-9-4, since their last meeting with the Blackhawks, and are now in 2nd place, in the Metropolitan Division.  Things change

Let’s take a look at how these teams matchup.

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As usual, the Hawks have the advantage, statistically.

The Flyers are a good offensive team, and a below average defensive and puck possession team.  This heavily favors the Hawks, in this matchup, as the Hawks are a fantastic offensive and puck possession team, that is able to eat up poor defensive teams.

As I mentioned earlier, the Flyers are in 2nd place, in the ultra-tight Metropolitan Division.  While they are in 2nd place, their 77 points is only 3 points better than the 5th place Washington Capitals.

No player has been more responsible for the Flyers turnaround than captain Claude Girouxwho leads the NHL, in points, since December.  He has had help from fellow forwards Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmondswho have also had fine offensive seasons.  Scott Hartnell has been solid offensively, as well, and he also adds a more chippy style of hockey that gives the Flyers a bit of grit.  The flyers blueline is anchored by veterans Mark Streit and Kimmo Timonen.

In net, for the Flyers, is likely to be Steve Masonwho has had a fine rebound season, in Philadelphia.  After winning the Calder Trophy, for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mason struggled mightily, in the following seasons, but has seemingly rediscovered some of his form.  In 52 games, this season, Mason has put up a solid .914 save percentage.

The Blackhawks are currently sitting in 3rd place, in the Central Division, only one point behind the 2nd place, Colorado Avalanche.  It is important for the Hawks to take 2nd place, from Colorado, who will likely be the Hawks’ 1st round playoff opponent, because whoever is in 2nd place, gets home-ice advantage, in the 1st round.  Every game form here on out, even the ones against the Eastern Conference, are of the utmost importance. 

The return of Marian Hossagave the Hawks a dramatic boost, in their victory over the Detroit Red Wings.  Since the Olympic break, captain Jonathan Toews has been absolutely on fire, and he even tallied a short-handed goal, against Detroit, that hopefully pulls the Penalty Kill, out of it’s recent funk.  Duncan Keith, who is likely the leading candidate to win the Norris Trophy, now has 50 assists, on the season.  The Hawks are going to have to make due, without Brandon Saadwho will be out, with an upper-body injury, for tonight’s game.  Patrick Kane has been quietly on a hot-streak of his own, with 4 points, and a +3, in his last 5 games, which includes a +2, in the recent loss to Colorado.  Kane’s “streak” is quiet because that’s pretty much been his pace, all season.

If the morning skate is any indicator(which it usually is), Antti Raanta will be getting the start, in net, for the Hawks.  This makes sense, considering the Hawks play a divisional game, tomorrow night, against the St. Louis Blues, which Corey Crawford should get the start in.  It’s nice to see Coach Q not making Crawford start back-to-back nights, which he has done, in the past.  Raanta, however, has had his ups and downs, in his first season in the NHL, and has put up a .904 save percentage, in 20 games played.

Much has changed since the last time the participants of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, last met, this season.  Both teams, however, are in tight divisional races that will have huge implications on where each team is, when the playoffs start.  Both teams need this game.  It should be a good one.