Blackhawks News

Game Preview: Corey Crawford Returns as Chicago Blackhawks Take on Toronto Maple Leafs

By Brian Kinkade

Dec 14, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mason Raymond (12) tries to get around Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya (27) during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Chicago 7-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As the Chicago Blackhawks continue their 2-game Canadian road-trip, they will finally have Corey Crawford back between the pipes as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.  

You can catch tonight’s game on CSN-Chicago or NHL Network and you can listen to the game on WGN 720 AM or 87.7 FM The Game.

Here’s a statistical breakdown of tonight’s game.

[table id=75 /]

As you can see, this matchup is actually pretty tight.  Yes, it’s still very early in the season. but I’d still say the Hawks have the advantage in this one, even though the Leafs seem to be an improved team,thus far.  The Hawks would be in much better shape if they could shake the apparent offensive bad luck they seem to have.  21st in the league, in Goals For, should not last nor will it, for the Hawks.  The Hawks are the top possession team in the league, which if that is kept up, it will eventually bring the Goals For up with it.  Hopefully, when that happens, the strong defensive play stays the same.  If it does, the Hawks will be a scary good team.

Toronto has seemingly improved, so far this season, but there are still some areas that need some cleaning up.  They are 19th in Corsi, which says they are a below average possession team, which is an improvement from last season.  Even with less limited puck opportunities, the Leafs have found a way to find the back of the net very consistently.  This is not sustainable, but there’s plenty of time for them to clean up their game.  Both teams are below average on the Power Play and both are either elite or above average on the Penalty Kill, so don’t expect a whole lot to happen on special teams tonight.

The Leafs are currently buried in 6th place in the very competitive Atlantic Division, with a 5-4-1 record, which is good for 11 points.  Last season, Toronto over-achived in the first half of the season and then dramatically fell back to earth in the 2nd half of the season.  Last night, the Leafs beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, in Columbus, by a score of  4-1.  In that game, Joffrey Lupol broke his hand and will be out for a while.  Lupol, who hasn’t been lighting the lamp much lately, is one of Toronto’s top possession players and he will be big loss.  Phil Kessel is the most offensively dangerous Leaf, but his defense is sort of suspect.  The key is to make sure he doesn’t see the puck too much, in the Hawks’ zone.  Like Lupol, Nazem Kadri hasn’t put up the expected points, so far, but has driven play, which his possession numbers show.  This is very much a team in transition.

In net, for the Maple Leafs will likely be James Reimersince Jonathan Bernier played last night, in Columbus.  In only 4 games played, Reimer has a so-so .914 Save Percentage, this season.

The Hawks are rested and looking to build on a win, in which they scored 5 goals.  Even without the offensive firing on all cylinders, the Hawks are in 2nd place in the Central Division, with a 6-3-1 record.  Marian Hossa is starting to heat up, and he just scored his 1,000th career point, so look for him to keep rolling.  Refer back to the stats table, and you’ll see that the Hawks are ranked 6th in the league with a 52.9% Faceoff Percentage.  That stat is a bit of a mirage, as Jonathan Toews is the only Hawks Center with an above 50% Faceoff Percentage, with an incredible 57.9%.  The next best is Andrew Shaw with a measly 47.8%.  If the Hawks can improve as a team, in this area, and take some pressure off of Toews, this team will be crazy-good, even though they are currently pretty solid.  Kris Versteeg is off to a solid start, and he is playing one of his former teams, tonight.  Perhaps tonight he can make something happen tonight.

In net, as mentioned earlier, will be Corey Crawford.  Crawford is making his first start since October 18th.  This should be a big boost for the Hawks on all facets of the ice as having their primary goaltender back is a nice morale boost.

Original Six…yadda, yadda, yadda.  A team that is going through a bit of a personality change and an elite team that hasn’t found it’s true potential quite yet are facing off against each other.

Go Hawks!