Blackhawks News

3 Chicago Blackhawks To Watch Against Minnehaha

By Colin Likas

Ah, back home at the United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks return to the Madhouse on Madison tonight after spending the previous six games on the road. They’ll host the Minnesota Wild, their Western Conference semifinal opponent of the previous two seasons and a currently struggling outfit.

This will be the second of five meetings between the Central Division rivals this season. The Wild took the first of the season on Oct. 30, a game I completely forgot happened until I looked back at the schedule. The Blackhawks tripled up on hockey’s cardinal sin — allowing a goal in the first or last minutes of a period — by letting the Wild score in the first minute of both the first and third periods and last minute of the first period in a 5-4 Minnesota victory. It would behoove the Blackhawks to not do this tonight.

Let’s look at the projected lineups for each side, starting with the Blackhawks.

Andrew ShawJonathan ToewsRyan Garbutt

Artemi PanarinArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane

Marko Dano-Marcus KrugerMarian Hossa

Brandon MashinterTanner KeroTeuvo Teravainen

Niklas HjalmarssonDuncan Keith

Trevor van RiemsdykBrent Seabrook

Michal RozsivalTrevor Daley

Corey CrawfordScott Darling

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Those were the lines from the morning skate, with the pairings likely staying the same from the previous few outings. These lines still look very strange to me, as though Joel Quenneville is trying to put a scoring threat in each trio while still keeping it defensively responsible. But they likely won’t change until the Blackhawks lay a total egg against someone, so we should get used to them for the time being.

Crawford gets called back into the net after being spelled by Darling in the Los Angeles game. Crow had a very strong Western Conference semifinal series against the Wild last season, permitting just three goals between the 29:30 mark of Game 1 and the 57:42 mark of Game 4 — a total of 208 minutes, 12 seconds. Other than that, the Wild had their three-goal spurt early in the second period of Game 1 and their two-goal rally late in Game 4, but those were also a product of defensive letdowns, as well as goaltending errors. Overall, Crow should be very comfortable against this group. (For the record, Darling started and played the entire 5-4 loss to the Wild earlier this season).

On to the Minnesota Wild.

Zach PariseMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuNino Niederreiter

Thomas VanekCharlie CoyleJustin Fontaine

Chris PorterErik HaulaRyan Carter

Ryan SuterJonas Brodin

Marco ScandellaJared Spurgeon

Nate ProsserMathew Dumba

Devan DubnykDarcy Kuemper

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We’ve seen all of these faces before, and we know what they’re capable of when they get going. The key, then, is to not let that happen. You could say the second line has been the Wild’s most offensively successful one so far, with Koivu having a team-best 20 points, Zucker adding 14 and Neiderreiter contributing nine. Minnesota’s top line should be the most effective on the offensive end, but Parise is still getting up to snuff after missing eight games early in the season and Pominville hasn’t been very good, just recently notching his first goal of the season. We know those bottom six love to make the Blackhawks pay for focusing on the Wild’s top six, and Vanek (19 points) is one guy to watch out for in particular.

Suter made some waves earlier this week by griping about coach Mike Yeo pairing him with Brodin, basically because he likes playing alongside a right-handed defensive partner (Brodin is not this) to give him more offensive options while also providing balance to the defensive pairs. But it seems that has already been smoothed over, and Yeo isn’t changing things up for the time being.

The 2014-15 half-season superstar in goal, Dubnyk, is scheduled to start tonight, but his wife is apparently expecting the birth of their child any day now. So Kuemper could be called into action at the last moment. While that would certainly benefit the Blackhawks, Dubnyk has been entirely average so far this season anyway, and they found plenty of ways to beat him in last season’s playoffs — in addition to getting him for four goals in October.

Let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch in the contest.

Nov 18, 2015; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward

Leon Draisaitl

(29) and Chicago Blackhawks forward Marko Dano (56) look for a loose puck during the first period at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Marko Dano

I think the previous time I put Dano’s name in this space, he wound up not playing. That shouldn’t be an issue tonight, especially considering he not only just celebrated his 21st birthday, but his mother also traveled from Slovakia to surprise her son and see him play in the NHL for the first time. She may only get to see him play for seven or eight minutes, but he’ll likely be motivated with all of that going on in the background. Additionally, with Q able to dictate matchups at the UC, he can get Dano and Hossa out there in favorable scenarios, which should bode well for the two and linemate (for now) Kruger. Dano and Hossa seem to have a solid connection on and off the ice, but it hasn’t translated to goals scored together yet. Maybe tonight’s the night that begins.

Nov 20, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival (32) against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Michal Rozsival

Rozsival saw his 2015 postseason come to an end against the Wild in Game 4 when his ankle twisted gruesomely underneath him and wound up breaking. Rozsival, after a couple rough outings against Nashville in the quarterfinals, was really finding his groove against a Minnesota team that, theoretically, should have scorched him repeatedly. Again, the instance of Q being able to choose his matchups should really benefit Rozsival, who has the defensive know-how to stifle a lot of the Wild forwards, but not the speed to keep up with some of them. We’ll see how that surgically repaired ankle holds up tonight, and if Rozi can continue his surprising success against the Minnesota squad.

Nov 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88)takes a shot on goal in the third period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Kings won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Kane

I think this is the first time I’ve put Kane in this space so far this season. The reason for that has been simple: He hasn’t needed to change much of anything, and we haven’t needed to worry about his play. We still don’t tonight, but I’m putting him here because he weaved a trail of destruction through the Wild defense and Dubnyk last summer. The Wild’s Wikipedia page was temporarily updated at one point to read that Kane was the franchise’s owner. He was the only Blackhawk with more than one goal against the Wild — and he had five of them, to go along with an assist. His goal in Game 3 was the only one scored. So he really has the Wild’s collective number. Interestingly, Kane had just one assist in the high-scoring first game between these teams this season. Expect a little more from him tonight.