Blackhawks News

Game Preview: Patrick Sharp Returns as Chicago Blackhawks Face New Jersey Devils

By Brian Kinkade

Jan 3, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Jon Merrill (34) chases down the puck against Chicago Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp (10) during the first period at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not like the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won 6 games in a row, needed a boost, but they got one anyway.  In the midst of a 4-game road trip, and right as they are starting the east-coast portion of the trip, tonight against the New Jersey Devils, the Hawks are getting a boost in the form of Patrick Sharp returning to the lineup.

Tonight’s game in New Jersey will be the first of the 2-game season series between the Hawks and Devils.  Puck drop is set for 6:00 PM Central Time.  You can catch tonight’s game on CSN-Chicago and you can listen to it on WGN 720 AM.

Here’s a statistical breakdown of the Hawks and Devils.

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It’s clear that the Hawks have a sizable advantage in tonight’s game.  Offensively, the Hawks are all-but elite, and will be up against New Jersey’s not-so-great defensive play.  The Devils, offensively speaking, can be described as poor, and they will have to figure out how to get things going tonight, against the Hawks’ top-ranked defensive team.

On Special Teams, the Hawks maintain their advantage.  The Hawks are slightly below average on the Power Play, but they will be facing the 2nd-to-worst Penalty Killing unit, in the NHL.  On the Penalty Kill, the Hawks are tops in the league, and will be up against a very good Devils’ Power Play.

When it comes to positive puck-possession, the Hawks have a big advantage.  In the faceoff circle, the Hawks are a top-5 team, while the Devils are one of the worst in the league.  The Corsi For Percentages of both teams tell us that the Devils are solid at getting the puck back, given that they, typically start play without it.  However, the Hawks are elite at hogging the puck and doing wonderful things with it.

The Devils are currently in 5th place, in the Metropolitan Division, with a record of 11-13-4 and 26 points on the season.  New Jersey was just in Raleigh, to take on the Carolina Hurricanes, last night, a game in which they won.  This works against them, as they are facing a well-rested Hawks team.  Future hall-of-famer, Jaromir Jagr had 2 points, in last night’s game, and leads the team with 17 on the season.  Center, Adam Henriquemay be in the midst of a breakout season, as he currently has 16 points in 21 games.  Veteran winger, Mike Cammalleri is off to a solid start to his tenure in New Jersey.  Former-Hawk, Tuomo Ruutuhas only 6 points in 27 games, this season, however, he doesn’t get favorable zone starts and still has a high CF%, which suggests he drives play and is playing very solid defensively, this season.

In net for the Devils, Cory Schneider has been a workhorse, this season, and after a 39-save performance last night, he could very well be back in net tonight.  In 27 games played, Schneider has a solid .918 Save Percentage.

The Hawks are currently in 2nd place in the Central Division, one point behind the St. Louis Blues whom the Hawks have a game in-hand on.  A win tonight could put the Hawks back in 1st place.  With Sharp returning, Coach Q wisely chose not to break up his league dominating line of Brad Richards, Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg.  Instead, he inserted Sharp on the 3rd line, alongside Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell.  Any team in the league would love to have that as their 3rd line.  Saturday, against the Nashville Predators, Marian Hossa scored 2 goals(one was an empty-netter), which broke his 6-game goalless streak.

In net for the Hawks, will be rookie Scott Darlingwho is making his 2nd consecutive start.  In 4 games played, this season, Darling has a sparkling .943 Save Percentage.

While the Hawks are well-rested, on fire, and facing a team that played just last night that hasn’t played nearly as well as the Hawks, the Hawks cannot afford to play down to their opponents.  The Devils have enough talent and hunger to make any team pay, and let’s face it, the Hawks are due for a let-down.  Let’s just not let it be tonight.

Go Hawks!