Oct 1, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) shoots the puck against Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Only 2 more games until the playoffs!
The Chicago Blackhawks are in the nation’s capital, to finish the 2-game season series, with the Washington Capitals. With the Blackhawks guaranteed to finish 3rd place, in the Central Division, and the Capitals guaranteed to not make the Eastern Conference playoffs, the only thing that truly matters, in this game, is staying healthy. At least for the Blackhawks. Hockey is still fun, and there’s an 82-game season to finish, so let’s enjoy it.
Let’s see how these teams matchup.
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As usual, the Hawks have the advantage, in this one. Also as usual, lately, the Hawks’ stats are slightly a mirage, since they are missing both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, two players who are largely responsible for the Hawks impressive statistics. The Capitals have an advantage, when it comes to both Special Teams categories. The reason for the Caps’ 2nd best Power Play in the NHL is largely due to goal scoring extraordinaire, Alex Ovechkin. The Hawks’ Penalty Kill is vastly improved, but is still slightly behind the below average, Capitals Penalty Kill, but that is largely due to the horrendous start to the season, for the Hawks’ PK. Offensively, the Capitals are solid, and once again, that’s largely due to Ovechkin, but they are a poor defensive team, which might also be due to Ovechkin, as well as others.
The Capitals have disappointed, this season, as they will not be participating, in the Eastern Conference playoffs. As a result, it’s likely heads will roll, in the off-season.
As mentioned earlier, the Capitals are Alex Ovechkin. He just made it to the 50-goal mark for the 4th time, in his career, but his defensive game, or lack thereof has always been a huge criticism to go along with it. There are other very good players, on the Capitals, like Nicklas Backstrom, who is tied for the team lead, in points, with Ovechkin. When healthy, defenseman Mike Green, is one of the best offensive defenseman, in the NHL.
In net, for the Caps, will either be Jaroslav Halak or Braden Holtby. Halak has had a very nice season, split between the St. Louis Blues and the Capitals. He has put up a great Save Percentage of .923, since joining the Capitals. Holtby has won his last 3 games.
The Blackhawks are locked into the 3rd spot, in the Central Division rankings, meaning they will be starting the 1st round, of the playoffs, on the road. Their opponent, however, is up in the air, at the moment. As of right now, the Hawks’ opponent would be the St. Louis Blues. The Blues are currently tied with the Colorado Avalanche, for 1st and 2nd place, in the Central, but the Avalanche hold the tie-breaker. Both teams still have two games remaining, so it could still change.
The Hawks have made things happen, in the absence of Kane and Toews, as Patrick Sharp is capping off the best season, of his career. If he can keep his hot play going, into the playoffs, the Hawks’ chances will be looking good. Jeremy Morin has taken full-advantage of his recent call-up, and has likely played himself onto the playoff roster. Bryan Bickell has returned from injury and is on fire. This is great news, for the Hawks is that Bickell is catching fire at the right time, for the playoff run. Last season, Bickell’s great playoff run was vital to the Hawks winning the Stanley Cup.
In net, will either be Corey Crawford or Antti Raanta. It’s hard to say, who, since the Hawks aren’t really playing for anything. Crawford is rounding into playoff form, but the Hawks will want him to be well-rested for a Cup run, but they will also want him to be in a solid rhythm, for the start of the 1st round.
We are almost there. 2 more games and we will be back in playoff hockey. The Hawks just need to stay healthy, the rest of the way, as well as making sure everyone is up to playoff speed, for the drop of the puck, for the 1st round. Hockey is still hockey, meaning it’s fun to watch, so it’s worth checking out.