I’m pretty sure no one calls The Saddledome in which the Calgary Flames play “The Firehouse,” but maybe it’ll stick now. Anyway, the Chicago Blackhawks head there tonight for the first of back-to-back games and their second game of three against Calgary this season.
The previous outing took place Sunday at the United Center, with the Blackhawks coming away with a 4-1 victory. The Flames are off to a very rough start this season, and with the Blackhawks needing all possible points to keep pace in the Central Division, tonight is an opportunity the Blackhawks can’t let slip away.
The lineup will look a little different for Joel Quenneville‘s crew in large part due to Teuvo Teravainen suffering an injury Wednesday against Edmonton. The morning-skate lines are a little frightening, so let’s take a look at them.
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The defensive pairings and second line are the only things remaining the same from Wednesday’s win. According to Chicago Sun-Times beat writer Mark Lazerus, Marko Dano is sick and will miss tonight’s game. With Teuvo also sidelined, Shaw gets another shot (probably temporary) at the top-line left wing.
Meanwhile, the bottom six looks pretty messy. I’m not sure what the third line is expected to do, as Desjardins returns after a multi-game benching and lines up alongside Mashinter, who has been playing about seven minutes a night, and defensive-minded Kruger. That might be called a checking line, since it sure isn’t a scoring line.
Tikhonov also slots back into the lineup after a lengthy benching, and his placement with Kero and Garbutt could work out. The three will get favorable zone starts whenever Q can manage it, and since the Flames likely won’t focus their better players on this line, that could lead to some opportunities.
Darling was first off the ice at the morning skate, meaning he’ll probably draw into the net tonight. With a tougher opponent tomorrow in Vancouver, Crawford will get a breather until then.
Let’s look at the projected Calgary lineup.
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The Flames had an optional morning skate today, but one interesting thing came of it. While Ramo and injured goaltender Jonas Hiller were initially the only two goaltenders on the ice, Ortio showed up later. Does that mean he gets the call tonight? I’m not certain, so I’m sticking with Ramo as the projected starter. He’s been the best of the three goaltenders, although that hasn’t meant much so far (5-7-0, .898 save percentage, 3.22 goals-allowed average).
After the top two lines, the Flames don’t have much to offer (sounds familiar). If the Blackhawks can keep those top six, especially Gaudreau, Monahan and Hudler, off the score sheet tonight, they should be able to produce a win unless Ramo pulls an unexpected shutout.
Here are three Blackhawks to watch in tonight’s game.
Nov 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Desjardins (11) shoots the puck against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks defat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
In comments made to the media yesterday, Q essentially said he wants Desjardins to be more aggressive when he’s on the ice, both in getting the puck from opposing players and playing with the puck. It may be difficult for him to do the latter with his linemates, as we talked about earlier. But it would be nice to see Desjardins stick in the lineup. While he had his struggles before his recent benching, Desjardins still offers much more upside than Mashinter, the one who replaced him. If Desjardins can make a noticeable and positive impact on tonight’s game, even if he doesn’t show up on the score sheet, he may be able to stick in the lineup moving forward. That would be more beneficial to the Blackhawks than having Mashinter sit on the bench for 80 percent of the game.
Nov 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Viktor Tikhonov (14) and Edmonton Oilers defensemanGriffin Reinhart
(8) attempt to get a loose puck during the third period at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks defat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Like Desjardins, Tikhonov will be trying to impress Q and the rest of the coaching staff off a benching. Unlike Desjardins, this isn’t the first time Tikhonov will be in this spot. And also unlike Desjardins, at least he has some semblance of a shot to dent the twine. Tikhonov doesn’t have any points heading into this game, but Kero and Garbutt have displayed a nose for the net in their limited time on the same line. As I mentioned before, favorable zone starts could give these three some opportunities against the weakest part of Calgary’s defensive unit and an underwhelming goaltender (either Ramo or Ortio). There’s no one this would help more than Tikhonov.
Nov 14, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues right wingScottie Upshall
(10) slams into the boards after high sticking Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) during the third period at Scottrade Center. The Blackhawks won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor van Riemsdyk
Van Riemsdyk has essentially become the fourth defenseman for the Blackhawks. Whether or not this was ever “the plan,” it’s well ahead of schedule, especially for a guy who saw his first NHL action last season and then missed a ton of time with injuries. Van Riemsdyk has been alright in the role, but he had a rough go of things Wednesday. Edmonton is a fast team, and if that was the only issue for van Riemsdyk, it won’t be one he’ll have to deal with to that extent very often. But he was also bulled off the puck a few times, including once by Teddy Purcell in a play that led directly to the Oilers’ third goal. No one is expecting van Riemsdyk to be perfect, but he’s going to have to get through his rookie/sophomore mistakes as quickly as possible, especially with the Blackhawks on the road. Tonight offers a fine opportunity for him to get back on track.