No hockey team likes to be defeated by the efforts of one or two opponents. Patrick Kane against the Minnesota Wild in last season’s Western Conference semifinals. Mike Smith against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals. And, on a far less-important stage, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin against the Blackhawks on Nov. 21 in Vancouver.
That game was in the middle of the circus trip, and it saw the Sedins account for four goals and five assists in a 6-3 Canucks win. Obviously, the Sedins are very familiar with the Blackhawks and tend to get up for games against them. They’ll have another chance tonight as the two teams face off at the United Center.
The Blackhawks are coming off a 2-0 win against Winnipeg in which Corey Crawford again carried the team. The Canucks, meanwhile have been a bit of a dumpster fire since they last saw the Blackhawks, going 3-4-2. They are, however, on a two-game winning streak, most recently defeating the Rangers 2-1 on Wednesday. They’re still just 11-11-8, but in the Pacific Division, that’s good for third place.
Let’s look at the projected lineups for tonight’s game, starting with the Blackhawks.
Corey Crawford-Scott Darling
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There are a few things not nearly set in stone tonight. While the Blackhawks did skate this morning, I haven’t seen updated lines anywhere. Mashinter could stay in tonight and waste five minutes of ice time, or Ryan Garbutt could rejoin the lineup and give the Blackhawks another player who might actually provide something. That’s up to Joel Quenneville … which means Mashinter will probably play.
By the time Friday’s game against Winnipeg had ended, Hjalmarsson and Seabrook were paired together while a struggling TVR went with Keith. That may be how today’s game starts, especially since the Blackhawks gave up no goals Friday (though that had much more to do with Crow than the defensive pairings). Rozsival could also slot back in for Rundblad, but Q might like having Rundblad at the powerplay point too much to move him. Indeed, that’s one thing Rundblad has actually done somewhat well since returning to the lineup, and it’s probably the only thing keeping him in.
Crow draws another start, and he’s had a sick last few games. In his last three starts, he’s given up two goals and recorded a shutout, stopping 91 shots (!) on 93 attempts. The Blackhawks can essentially thank him for the two wins against Winnipeg, as the offense couldn’t be bothered to do much of anything.
On to the Canucks.
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Jannik Hansen
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Brandon Sutter and Dan Hamhuis are on the sideline for the Canucks, who had an optional skate this morning at the UC. The top line is obviously the most threatening for the Canucks, while Vrbata is always good for an irritating goal against the Blackhawks. That third line seems like it should be capable offensively, but we all know Burrows has no idea how to contribute when not lined up with the Sedins. And the fourth line is garbage, as Prust will just have a staged fight with Mashinter at some point. Hopefully the penalty box doors get stuck locked from the inside.
Vancouver’s defense is underwhelming, as Edler and Tanev aren’t really a top-pairing tandem. And Miller is past his prime, but has to play because Markstrom is nowhere near ready to be a full-time NHL goaltender. Miller is still living off his past Olympic success (you certainly can’t take that away from him), and he may lead the Canucks to an NHL-record number of OT losses this season.
While I’d normally look at three Blackhawks to watch, I’m going to put a bit of a spin on it today. As you may have seen floating around on the interwebs, there are three specific milestones three different Blackhawks are in line to reach today. Let’s look at those instead.
Dec 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Eric Nystrom (24) and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) go for the puck during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Marian Hossa — 1,200th NHL game
Hossa has been around for quite some time after being selected by Ottawa in the first round of the 1997 draft. As each season goes by, we’re left with fewer and fewer players who were drafted in the 90s, but the 36-year-old Hossa (he has a birthday next month) has been noted saying he’d like to play well into his 40s, like Chris Chelios did and like Jaromir Jagr is doing. Barring more injuries moving forward, there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it. He’s in the midst of his 17th (!) full season in the NHL, and that’s not taking into account 194 postseason games. Despite the wear and tear those numbers have put on his body, Hossa has boasted 30 or more assists in five seasons in his 30s, as well as 20 or more goals in six seasons while a 30-year-old. It’s a time when players are typically on a career backslide, but Hossa has just been consistently dominant in his “advancing age.” This season has been somewhat rough early on, but he’s far from the only one struggling to put the biscuit in the basket. You know he’ll break out at some point and go on a tear. Maybe he starts that tonight, with the emotion of another career-games-played milestone in the corner of his mind.
Dec 11, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) reacts after taking a stick by Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler (26) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Niklas Hjalmarsson — 500th NHL game
It’s kind of amazing Hjalmarsson has made it to 500 NHL games. That sounds silly after noting Hossa is going for No. 1,200 tonight, but consider what Hjalmarsson does on the ice on a nightly basis. He puts his entire body on the line, getting in the way of sticks, pucks and players moving at high rates of speed. It’s amazing when he suffers something like a puck to throat, rendering him unable to talk, and he misses just a few shifts. Not a few days or a few weeks. A few shifts — AKA a few minutes. You try doing things like that for 499 games and see how you’re holding up. Of course, this all goes under the radar outside Chicago, which boasts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as the most-noticeable blue-line faces. Hjalmarsson has only been voted to one All-Star Game in his six-plus full seasons in the league. I guess 137 career points and 1,179 career blocked shots don’t exactly make for an amazing All-Star ballot, but they make for an amazing defenseman for the Blackhawks. Every milestone game he reaches is incredible.
Dec 11, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) celebrates with left wing Artemi Panarin (72) and defenseman David Rundblad (5) after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Kane — 26th consecutive game with a point
While Kane’s streak is impressive, it’s unfortunate that, for some Blackhawks fans, it has pretty much overshadowed the team’s wins and losses. While Kane has tied Sidney Crosby for the longest games-with-a-point streak in the “dead-puck era” at 25, it’s still not as important as the Blackhawks winning games and picking up points. But the streak will be on everyone’s radar until it ends, so we can’t avoid discussing it. The one important thing about Kane’s streak is that his points have often been a driving force behind the Blackhawks picking up wins. With much of the offense struggling to produce so far, Kane and the second line have done a lot of the damage. Thankfully, other lines have recently started chipping in, hopefully indicating the tide will soon turn. I’ll be Crow and Darling would appreciate that. Against a suspect Vancouver defensive corps and goaltender, Kane has a good chance tonight to extend his streak past Crosby territory, but still far from Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux territory.