Blackhawks start annual parents' trip with game vs Panthers

This week, the Blackhawks will play both Florida teams, starting with the Panthers on Tuesday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. It is also time for the team's annual parents' trip; this season, it's the mother-son version of the trip.

Rookie Joakim Nordström was sent back to the AHL this weekend. He is expected to get much more playing time with the IceHogs and to work on his penalty kill skills. At this time, a call-up player has not been announced; it is expected that Michael Kostka or Sheldon Brookbank will likely fill in on the forward position, as they have in the past.

Chicago goes into Tuesday night's game ranked second in the Central division with a record of 5-1-2. Their PK remains a sore point - just 73.1%, barely ahead of the Wild and the Flames.

The Blackhawks are coming off what might be their best game of the season, a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. The three stars of the game were all some of the team's youngest players - Brandon Saad, Nick Leddy, and rookie Brandon Pirri.

Familiar faces for Blackhawks fans still dot the Panthers' roster: Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg, and Brian Campbell, all members of the 2010 Cup-winning Chicago team, are all still with Florida.

The Florida Panthers unexpectedly made headlines during the pre-season when their backup goalie, Scott Clemmensen, had to undergo minor surgery for his knee. Florida's 2008 Draft pick, Jacob Markstrom, was going to be the starting goaltender.

However, Florida ended up signing Tim Thomas, who had taken the 2012-2013 season off. Markstrom remains as the Panthers' backup goalie, and Clemmensen was lent to the team's AHL affiliate in San Antonio. The Panthers have had a rocky start to their season, going 3-6-0, which puts them at 6th place in wild card contention in the Eastern Conference.

Thomas is only 2-3-0 with .901 sv% and 3.36 GAA so far, but it is clear that the year off has not hurt his skill any. Thomas has always been a battler, and he wants to win. Although the Panthers haven't announced their starting goaltender for Tuesday's game, it would seem likely that Thomas would be in goal, especially after Saturday's 2-1 shootout win versus the Wild.

Corey Crawford (4-1-2, .922 sv%, 2.07 GAA) will be in net for Chicago. Nikolai Khabibulin is likely to get the start in Tampa Bay later in the week.

Tomas Fleischmann (1G, 7A), Brad Boyes (4G, 2A), and 2013 Draft pick/rookie Aleksander Barkov (3G, 3A) lead the Panthers' scoring. The Panthers have improved their penalty kill since last season - they're now 19th in the league at 80.6%, versus 2013's league-worst 74.2%. Their power play, on the other hand, still needs work - dropping from 20.4% last season to just 11.8%. Sean Bergenheim is still out of the lineup; Ed Jovanovski and Steven Pinizzotto remain on IR. 

While the Blackhawks will continue to improve their game and numbers in the win column, the Panthers will be fighting for a win against the Stanley Cup champions - a win that could go a long way towards boosting the team's confidence.