After a scoreless first preseason effort, the Chicago Blackhawks are taking the ice again tonight
The Chicago Blackhawks will begin their lengthiest stretch of preseason play tonight as they match up for the second consecutive game against the defending Stanley Cup champion-Pittsburgh Penguins.
This game will be held in Pittsburgh and can be seen on WGN or NHL Network beginning at 6 p.m. On Wednesday, the Pens opened the Blackhawks’ preseason by handing them a 2-0 defeat at the United Center.
This is the first of three preseason games in three days, with the Blackhawks returning home Saturday to face the Blues before traveling to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday for a tilt with Detroit. Just two preseason games remain after that — Tuesday against Detroit and next Saturday against St. Louis.
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But let’s worry about tonight’s game. And I’m using “worry” very loosely here, as it is a preseason game. A lot of the Blackhawks’ familiar faces will not be participating in this game, with most of last year’s regular performers sidelined.
Let’s look at the lineups
Alexandre Fortin-Vincent Hinostroza-Ryan Hartman
Tanner Kero-Tyler Motte-Kyle Baun
Pierre-Cedric Labrie-Andrew Desjardins-Martin Lundberg
Graham Knott-Alex DeBrincat-Nick Schmaltz
Not sure of the defensive pairings at this point, but the blueliners listed on tonight’s roster are: Michal Kempny, Michal Rozsival, Gustav Forsling, Viktor Svedberg, Erik Gustafsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Carl Dahlstrom and Robin Norell.
It sounds like Lars Johansson will start in goal for Chicago, with Mac Carruth backing him up. So regular starter Corey Crawford and regular backup Scott Darling will both get a break tonight.
Here’s Pittsburgh roster for tonight’s game.
Tom Kuhnhackl-Kevin Porter-Tom Sestito
Jake Guentzel-Carter Rowney-Dominik Simon
Scott Wilson-Eric Fehr-Conor Sheary
Garrett Wilson-Jean-Sebastien Dea-Josh Archibald
Derrick Pouliot-Trevor Daley
Brian Dumoulin-Justin Schultz
Steve Olesky/Reid McNeill-David Warsofsky
You’ll recognize a scant few names on that roster unless you watch a lot of minor league action. The defense has some regulars on it, but only Fehr, Sheary and Sestito are what you might deem regular forwards for the Pens.
They will, however, go with regular goaltender Fleury in net. Of course, he may not be the regular goaltender anymore after Matt Murray supplanted him late last season. But Murray was hurt in the World Cup of Hockey, so Fleury should be seeing more work in the immediate future.
With the lineups posted, let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch tonight.
Knott makes this watch because he had some big news today. The 2015 second-round draft pick by the Blackhawks signed a three-year contract with the team this morning.
Knott doesn’t project as a typical Blackhawks forward. The Blackhawks have mostly geared toward finding smaller, speedier forwards through the draft and overseas. Knott checks in at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds. He’s a power forward who posted 47 points in 85 games last season in the OHL, and he’s just 19 years old.
Knott is getting a chance on the fourth line, but what a fourth line it is. DeBrincat is more in the mold of what the Blackhawks look for: a speedy, talented forward who the Blackhawks felt slipped to them in the 2016 draft (second round, 39th overall). He’s posted more than 100 points in each of his last three hockey seasons.
And then there’s Schmaltz, who was blazing past Penguins opponents on the top line Wednesday. Two extremely talented playmakers in DeBrincat and Schmaltz paired with a powerful Knott should give Knott plenty of chances to slam pucks past Fleury.
Fortin is also a recent signee of a three-year contract. The Blackhawks have been extremely impressed with what they’ve seen from Fortin this offseason and preseason, and they’re giving him a top-line spot tonight to let him do work.
Da Windy City
Being paired with Hinostroza should be good for setting Fortin up for scoring chances, while having Hartman crash the front of the net should also give Fortin some more room to shoot the puck.
The highest level Fortin has played at is the QMJHL, in which he posted 50 points in 74 games last season. So he doesn’t even have OHL, ECHL or AHL experience to fall back on while trying to crack an NHL roster.
More realistically, he’ll be in the minor leagues this season. However, his rapid advancement through the Blackhawks’ system makes him worth watching in the preseason.
A few of the defensemen who suited up for Chicago on Wednesday are back in the lineup tonight: Kempny, Svedberg, TVR and Forsling. Gustafsson will get his first action tonight, and it’s an important point for him.
TVR looked really rough in the preseason opener, as did Svedberg. Meanwhile, Forsling looked really strong as the upcoming youngster. The Blackhawks are likely looking for someone to fill their sixth and seventh D spots, and Gustafsson can fit into one of those roles.
Gustafsson provided some nice offensive spark when he was first called up last season. But as the year went on, he found himself getting beat to pucks more often and having his route-taking abilities exposed.
While tonight won’t see Gustafsson match up against many NHL-quality forwards, it’s at least an opportunity to prove he has improved in the above-mentioned areas, and to lay early claim to one of those open D spots.