After a break filled with plenty of Chicago Cubs baseball (and winning), the Chicago Blackhawks take to the ice once again tonight in a road tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s the first of two meetings between these clubs, with the second not coming until the middle of March. That’s really unfortunate, considering how bad the Flyers are likely to be this season.
As of now, though, the Flyers are tied for second in the Metropolitan Division. So maybe they won’t be so awful in 2015-16.
About that …
Screenshot from NHL.com
If you can’t at least get a chuckle out of that, you need to check your pulse. That has to be the worst start by an entire division in recent memory. Not only is just one team above .500, only one team has a positive goal differential! If it stays this way, which it most certainly won’t, NBC is going to feel really silly for having five of these teams on TV every other night (sorry, Columbus, Carolina and New Jersey). At the same time, if you were wondering how the Central is faring, only one team has fewer than four points (the Colorado Avalanche with two). Puke.
Anyway, back to the Flyers. As you can see above, they’ve done a little of everything so far this season. They started with an overtime loss at Tampa Bay, which is entirely respectable. Then they got pantsed in Florida, falling to the Panthers 7-1. Not so respectable. But they bounced back with their first win of the season two nights later (Monday), getting revenge on the Panthers 1-0 in Philadelphia’s home opener.
What has been a major issue with the Flyers for some time is their defense, as you can see from the 10 goals allowed in just three games. Steve Mason is a fine goaltender behind that blueline core, but he rarely gets help from his teammates. And outside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, there aren’t many guys to fill the net for Philly. On top of that, they’ve already had to kill 16 minor penalties this season (as pointed out by Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus) compared to the Blackhawks having to kill off four. The Blackhawks’ speed should make that 16 number rise tonight.
Looking at Chicago, the Blackhawks appear to be rolling with the same lines from their previous outing, if the morning skate is any indication (it typically is):
Corey Crawford will start in net for the Blackhawks, but it can’t be said for certain the blueline will remain the same tonight as it was last week. Outside of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, things have been hit and miss. Trevor Daley, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Viktor Svedberg are your current 4-6, with David Rundblad eating a cheese steak in the press box.
Da Windy City
I don’t have any up-to-the-minute Flyers lines at the moment, so we’ll go off dailyfaceoff.com’s lines from Philly’s previous game:
Yevgeni Medvedev-Radko Gudas
Mason missed the Flyers’ last game with an undisclosed family matter, but he is with the club for tonight’s game. Whether or not he starts is a separate matter, considering Neuvirth pitched a shutout after Mason gave up four goals on eight shots in that loss to Florida. But there’s really nothing to be afraid of here aside from the top line, or at least the center and right wing parts of it. Voracek had a career-best 81 points last season while Giroux managed 73 of his own. Philly’s second line is capable as well, but it’s no Panarin-Anisimov-Kane. And Gagner had that game against Chicago as a member of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012 that we won’t discuss further.
So, with all that on the table, let’s take a look at three Blackhawks to watch tonight at the Throw Snowballs At Santa Center … oh, it’s the Wells Fargo Center? That’s boring as hell.
Oct 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) keeps the puck away from New York Islanders center Mikhail Grabovski (84) during the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
It’s tough to put the watchful eye on a guy who has three goals and three assists in three games, but there’s a specific reason I’m doing so. This is Philadelphia the Blackhawks are traveling to. Their sports fans are somewhat insane.
Screenshot from Google
While fans at the Barclays Center only had a “No means no” chant to direct at Kane, Philly fans will certainly have much, much worse. And it’ll be tough for him to pretend he doesn’t hear it (unless he wears earplugs, which seems counterproductive to playing hockey). So Kane will have to be entirely focused on the ice in front of him and do his best to tune out the noise. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of sizable Flyers ready to run him into next month. Plus, with the Flyers getting last change, there’s a fair chance the Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line sees the best of Philly, considering how hot it has been offensively. Of course, the best Philly has to offer defensively isn’t much, so that probably won’t matter to Kane as much as the previously mentioned things.
Oct 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53)looks to pass the puck against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor Daley (6) during the third period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
This feels like Bob Barker in “Happy Gilmore” when he’s trying to get Happy to sink a short putt. Barker says, “Alright … Happy” in a very stern voice while giving him short-game advice. Joel Quenneville might be doing the same thing with Daley at this point. The defenseman hasn’t been very good at his first job … defending … through three games. It’s a small sample size, but all the shotgunning and flightiness we were worried about appears to be alive and well in Daley. And with van Riemsdyk and Svedberg not exactly serving as carbon copies of Keith and Seabrook/Hjalmarsson, that’s an issue. It’s especially an issue when Daley is paired with van Riemsdyk, leaving the young, still-developing blueliner as the defensively responsible half of that duo. This would be a fine game for Daley to get his feet under him and show the Blackhawks he isn’t out there just trying to score on pinch-in plays. The Flyers are the first sub-par opponent the Blackhawks have seen this season. If Daley fares poorly here … is that a torch and pitchfork store opening up outside the United Center?
Wait, what? I forgot to mention that Timonen will be honored by the Flyers before tonight’s contest. He played seven of his 16 seasons in the league with the Flyers, stopping by for a Stanley Cup run in Chicago ahead of retirement. I don’t think Timonen will be suiting up for the Blackhawks afterward, but …
I could’ve just put “the third line” here, but let’s focus on the newest guy in that trio. The Bickell-Teuvo-Tikhonov line should see a lot of lower-quality competition tonight while the Flyers try to shut down Chicago’s top two lines. That’ll give these guys the chance to go hog wild in the scoring department. While it’d certainly be great for Bickell to get some positive vibes going by getting on the scoresheet, I’m most curious to see how Tikhonov fares in such conditions. Age-wise (27), he’s a veteran of the sport, and he and Teuvo could create some magic with the right opportunities. He hasn’t seen much ice time in his first two games (10:17 average) and has just two shots in that time, so this is the perfect spot for a breakout night from Tikhonov.