Chicago Blackhawks hockey is back at the United Center after a one-week break, which included a pair of road losses to Eastern Conference foes. On the menu tonight is a team that has violently underachieved in the early going despite the relative success of its top offseason acquisition.
The Columbus (#Lumbus) Blue Jackets roll into town, although roll might be too strong of a word. They’re one of only four teams without a win and one of just two without a point (Edmonton is the other). Columbus has lost its first five outings behind porous team defense and uncharacteristically bad goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky.
Of course, this also marks the return of Brandon Saad to the United Center after a then-surprising offseason deal sent him to the BJs for a package that included Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano. Saad is tied for the team lead with three goals, but has a motley minus-6 rating to go with those strikes. And while we’re discussing Saad …
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, and the scoreboard tribute will probably come at the first media timeout. Always a cool thing for guys who had a big role in at least one of the Blackhawks’ three recent Stanley Cups.
Now let’s take a look at the projected lines and pairings for tonight’s game, starting with the host Blackhawks (courtesy Mark Lazerus):
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The biggest changes tonight are on the first and third lines. Bickell has parlayed a solid game in Washington on Thursday into a shot in the lottery spot on the Blackhawks’ top line. At this point, why not? The offense is stagnant, and Joel Quenneville occasionally strikes gold with moves like these. Unfortunately, that does bump Viktor Tikhonov from the lineup, and he was having a decent (though point-less) run in the last two games.
The other change comes on the third line, with Hinostroza’s recent addition allowing Teuvo to be tried at the wing once more. Garbutt also slots back in after a brief benching. It’ll be interesting to see how this line meshes. Garbutt will likely be told to get to the net while Teravainen and Hinostroza try to create scoring plays. They likely have previous playing time together from their days in Rockford, so it could be a good pairing.
Crawford is expected to get the start after neither goaltender was helped by his defense in 3-0 and 4-1 road losses earlier this week. The defense will just have to keep on keeping on until Michal Rozsival and/or Kyle Cumiskey gets the opportunity to make it … different. Maybe not better, but certainly different.
I’m not seeing any Blue Jackets lines, likely because they played last night in Toronto. So let’s go with what they iced last night:
I’ve put McElhinney ahead of Bob because the latter started last night against Toronto and just hasn’t been very good in general, meaning he could probably use a night off. He’s allowed an amazingly bad 23 goals in five games for an .835 save percentage. Bob will likely get that corrected sooner rather than later, but the defense in front of him will have to improve as well to make that stand up.
There are plenty of recognizable names on this roster, but you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying anything beyond the top two lines is worth fearing. Hartnell’s better days are behind him, Bourque has never been very good, Calvert is a traditional yet unspectacular role player, Clarkson makes poor decisions on the ice on a regular basis, and Campbell is best known for gutting out a broken leg while killing a penalty for the Bruins in the 2013 playoffs.
With all this in mind, let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch tonight in the Madhouse on Madison:
Sep 23, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Vincent Hinostroza (48) skates with the puck in the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Duh. Will he have a huge hit on his first shift like Ryan Hartman? Will he combine with Teuvo to score a spectacular goal? Will he play more than 10 minutes? These are all questions worth asking as another young prospect makes his NHL debut. At just 21-years-old and 5-foot-9, 158 pounds, Hinostroza has plenty of growing up to do. It’d be surprising to see him with the Blackhawks from now until April. But he’s going to get his first shot tonight at proving he deserves that consideration. For Hinostroza, he just needs to keep things simple and not get too far out of his body. If Hinostroza plays a clean defensive game and stays out of the box, he’ll probably earn some love from Q. If he adds offensive production, he may earn even more. Should be fun to see how he fares tonight against a Columbus team that would gladly take its first win of the season in the United Center.
Oct 15, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) makes a save in front of Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) as Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) defends in the third period at Verizon Center. The Capitals won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Toews and Hossa haven’t exactly lit the world on fire through five games for the Blackhawks, so maybe Bickell is just the guy to help set them straight. Bickell is hit or miss when it comes to whether or not he wants to be a net-front presence, but it’d serve him and the Blackhawks well if he stuck his body right in front of McElhinney/Bob tonight. The Blackhawks didn’t have much puck luck in their short roadtrip, so some deflections and screens might be in order. And it’d be especially good to see that come from a first line that hasn’t much felt like a first line so far. From an individual standpoint, it’ll also be interesting to see if Bickell can build upon an active outing in Washington or if he just gets overshadowed by his superstar linemates.
Oct 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) celebrates with center Artem Anisimov (15) after scoring against the New York Islanders during the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Anyone in an Indian Head named Trevor
The Daley-van Riemsdyk defensive pairing has probably already sent a few fans to the hospital, so it’s good the Blackhawks are back at home, where Q can dictate who these two will see coming the other way. Defensemen chipping in on offensive plays in great, but if there was ever a game for these two to become a more-gelled unit actually playing defense, this would be it. Daley and Van Riemsdyk shouldn’t see much of the Blue Jackets’ top two lines if Q can avoid it, and those bottom two won’t turn play the other way as quickly as their top-six counterparts. That’s something the defensive duo has struggled with, in part because their tendency to get stuck in the offensive zone leaves odd-man rushes for the opponents. These two, like Hinostroza, should just keep it simple tonight. If there’s a golden opportunity on offense, by all means take it. But there’s no reason for these two to force things on the offensive end in Game 6 of the season. And frankly, even though it is Game 6, the Blackhawks are tied for last in a Central Division that will see teams rack up points at an alarming rate. Foolish decisions from the blue line go a long way toward widening a gap you wouldn’t want to see get much larger.
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