Game 13 Preview: Habs visit Hawks for an Original 6 match-up
Quick one tonight since I'm a tad late thanks to month end stuff at work. The Canadiens visit the Chicago Blackhawks tonight for the first and only time of the season. Interesting since both used to be two out of only six teams in the league, making sure they saw more than enough of each other throughout a season.
Here we are, 42 seasons after expansion (and, *snicker*, 42 years after the Leafs last won a cup), and two teams that have a lot of history between them only play each other once out of an 82 game schedule. And considering the amazing young talent on the Blackhawks, and how popular the Canadiens are always going to be, it truly is a shame. Even so, the only current history you'll be able to find between the two teams are trade rumors (whether it involved either Price or Halak going to Chicago for God only knows what) as well as former Montreal Canadien Cristobal Huet minding the net for the Hawks.
And speaking of the former Hab, Jesse Rogers at ESPN is reporting that Huet will be getting the start in goal tonight, only 24 hours removed from dropping a 2-0 loss to Nashville. The loss certainly wasn't Huet's fault, as he stopped 25 of 26 shots and his offense wasn't able to provide any support. Huet has been playing recently, starting the last three games in a row and only allowing two goals on 75 shots over that span. Huet started the season with some pretty bad performances, but has improved his numbers to a good 2.32 GAA and a respectable .897 SVP, and will be looking to improve those numbers tonight, especially against the team that made him a star.
As for the rest of the team, if the Blackhawks intend to win against the Canadiens tonight, they're going to need to score some goals, unlike their performance last night, and they'll need to overcome the fatigue and lull of playing their second game in as many days. While they lead the Central division with a 7-4-1 record, and their goals against are surprisingly low at 29, they've only scored 36 goals in 12 goals, and while that is an average of three per game, it's the second lowest amongst playoff teams in the West.
Ok, maybe I'm grasping at straws, but it's hard to find issues with such a solid team.
Here's a look at some of their key players:
- Patrick Sharp leads the team with 10 points, 5 goals and 5 assists. With the Hawks facing cap issues next year, he has been the center of a lot of trade rumors, including some that would send him to Montreal, but for now, he's a Hawk, and one of the best Hawks, statistically.
- Patrick Kane is tied with Sharp with another 10 points. Kane is a very important part of the Hawks rebirth and despite facing some controversy in his hometown of Buffalo that we all know about, it hasn't affected his play.
- Duncan Keith leads all Hawks defensemen in points with 8 (as well as goals with 3), and has a good +5 rating. Simply one of the most underrated defensemen in the league.
- Brent Seabrook 1 goal, 6 assists, +5, see above for the rest.
I could go on forever: Kris Versteeg, last year's Calder finalist, Dustin Byfuglien, amazingly versatile and hard hitting player, Brian Campbell, who's starting to play a lot better, Cam Barker, another underrated defenseman, Andrew Ladd, Dave Bolland, John Madden, the list goes on.
Jonathan Toews has five points and a whopping +7 rating in 9 games, but the star center is still out with a concussion after a devastating hit from Willie Mitchell last week that gave him a concussion.
It's been kind of quiet today in terms of news and notes, "The Calm Before the Storm" as Habs Inside/Out put it. We already know that Andrei Kostitsyn will be playing with Gomez and Gionta on the first line, and you have to imagine that if Kostitsyn can't put up a goal tonight (or at the latest, tomorrow night at home against the leafs), then that will be Kostitsyn's last chance before Martin finally puts him in the press box. I think it's too early to talk about demoting him to Hamilton to join his infamous younger brother Sergei, Andrei's getting a big chance to turn things around.
As Shaun Starr put it this morning on the Team 990 radio station, Kostitsyn's "gone from doghouse to penthouse" in just one game, and one has to wonder whether Bob Gainey and Jacques Martin are showcasing the enigmatic forward. I guess we'll see.
Beyond that, Mike Cammalleri will look to find some chemistry with Tomas Plekanec and Maxim Lapierre, and Glen Metropolit and Kyle Chipchura will be centering the best of the rest on the bottom two lines. No changes on defense.
Finally, Carey Price returns in goal tonight after replacing Jaroslav Halak to start the third period against the Pens on Wednesday. Price let in two goals in the 6-1 rout, but you can't really blame him for either goal. One was a screen shot off a face-off on a powerplay from Goligoski, and the second was Kunitz's first goal of the season, which came on a breakaway. Price let up the five hole in the goal, but to try to fault him when he's coming into a game cold in the third period would be unfair.
Now, if he can't play like he did in the first two games of the season tonight, then maybe he will be at fault. Needless to say tonight is a must win for the young goaltender, as Halak will most likely get another shot at minding the Canadiens goal tomorrow night. The Habs will be losing an house playing in the Central timezone tonight and will be on the back end of two games in two night, so unless Price posts a shutout and doesn't face many shots, you would imagine Halak would be playing tomorrow in Montreal.
It remains to be seen how both these teams react to their latest losses, but a betting man would probably put his money on the Blackhawks tonight, and even as a Habs fan, I have to say I'd put my money on them as well.
Final prediction for the night:
Hawks 4 - Habs 3 F/SO
I'll be a homer and give the Habs an overtime point. The Hawks forwards come up big tonight after being held off the scoresheet last night, and most of the Canadiens goals come from their second line.
I'll be back tomorrow to preview the Habs and Leafs. Enjoy the game!