Game Preview: Chicago Blackhawks Search for Dignity Against Florida Panthers

By Brian Kinkade

Dec 8, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) battles for the puck with Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) during the third period at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Panthers 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

10-3.  That’s the combined score of the Chicago Blackhawks’ previous two losses at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins, respectively.  These losses were on home ice, no less.  The previous two losses and the overall 2-2-3 homestand is not what fans have come to expect of Blackhawks’ standard of quality.  Surely, they are angry and embarrassed.  More than likely, they will come out on fire, tonight as they face another playoff desperate team, the Florida Panthers.  

This is the first meeting of the season between the Hawks and Panthers.  Tonight’s game opens a home-and-home series, which is also the entire season series between the Hawks and Panthers, as they meet again, in Florida, on Thursday.  Puck drop for tonight’s game is set for 7:30 PM Central Time.  Tonight’s game can be seen on CSN-Chicago and can be heard on WGN 720 AM.

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

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Overall offensively, the Hawks are good but not great and tonight they will be up against a Florida defense that is a bit below average.

Defensively, the Hawks are an elite team(just don’t think about the last two games) and tonight, they will be tasked with shutting down a Panthers’ offensive attack that is near the bottom of the league.

On the Power Play, the Hawks are slightly below average and tonight they will be assigned a Panthers’ Penalty Kill that has struggled mightily this season.

For the Hawks, their Penalty Kill is one of the best in the league and they will be tasked with shutting down a Florida Power Play that is one of the worst in the league.

In the faceoff circle, the Hawks are very good and tonight they will be taking draws against a Panthers squad that is sub-par in the dot.

In terms of puck-possession, the Hawks are one of the better teams in the league and tonight they will be battling for the puck against a Panthers team that has been average at possessing the puck.

On paper, the Hawks have a huge advantage.  However, we’ve heard that before and it hasn’t worked out very well.  The Hawks can beat any team on any night, and the Panthers are no exception.  The Hawks aren’t desperate and the Panthers are, which is worrisome, but in reality, the Hawks need to be desperate too.  Yes, the playoffs are almost a complete certainty, but it’s almost easy to forget that the Hawks are an elite team.  The fans and the Hawks themselves could really use a reminder of that, tonight.

The Panthers are 26-21-12 with 64 points, which is good for 5th place in the Atlantic Division.  They are 3 points behind the Boston Bruins for 4th place in the Atlantic as well as the 2nd and final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.  Florida will be wrapping up a 5-game road trip, tonight.  They have struggled on the trip as they have lost their last 4 games.

Nick Bjugstad is having a breakout season, in his 2nd full NHL campaign as he leads the Panthers in points.  After a down season last year, Jonathan Huberdeau has had a solid bounce back season for Florida.  Rookie defenseman, Aaron Ekbladthe 1st overall pick in last year’s draft, is having a great rookie season.  Ekblad is learning the tricks of the trade from his defensive partner and former-Hawk, Brian Campbell.  

Starting in net for the Panthers will likely be Roberto Luongo.  Luongo has been very good and vital to the Panther’s playoff hopes, with his .920 Save Percentage in 48 games played this season.

The Hawks are 35-20-5 with 75 points which is good for 3rd place in the Central Division.  They are now 5 points behind the 2nd place St. Louis Blues.  

Patrick Kane was able to record an assist against Boston, which ended his 3-game pointless streak.  Jonathan Toews also ended a 3-game pointless streak against the Bruins, but with a goal instead of an assist.  It’s been said over and over again, but Patrick Sharp is due for a spike in production, due to his alarmingly low shooting percentage.  It hasn’t happened yet, but perhaps after yesterday’s spirited practice, tonight’s the night.

Starting in net for the Hawks will be the recently called up and recently extended rookie, Scott Darling.  Darling was great, earlier in the season, albeit a small sample size(7 games) he put up a .937 Save Percentage.

A loss would be brutal, but a win would ease the headaches of Hawks fans everywhere.  They owe us.  It’s brutally cold and enjoying good, quality hockey is the best way to forget about the frigid Chicago temperatures.  So, get it done.

Go Hawks!