Hawks Look to Douse Flames
The Chicago Blackhawks look to move closer to the Central division lead tonight when they visit the Calgary Flames. After last night's utter embarassment at the hands of a speedy Edmonton Oilers club, the Hawks hope to quickly put a terrible loss behind them as they venture further along their long road trip. This is the fourth meeting between the two clubs, with the Hawks prevailing over their western conference neighbors in two of the three.
Neither club has played exceptionally well over their last ten games. The Flames have lost two in a row, are 5-4-1 in their last ten games and are only one game above .500. The Blackhawks have faired slightly better at 5-2-3 in their last ten, but are winless in their last three games.
The Blackhawks have high hopes for their offensive prowess with the return of Captain Jonathan Toews and sniper Patrick Sharp from injury back into the top two lines. Newly acquired veteran Brendan Morrison will be preparing to face his former team for the first time in just his third game with his new club in Chicago. With the “Patrick Kane at Center” experiment tossed in the trash, Morrison will be looked upon to provide the depth down the middle for the Hawks as they head into the latter stage of the regular season.
The Calgary Flames offense has seriously struggled this year as proved evident by their fifth from the bottom in goals for league-wide. Chicago, on the other hand, is an impressive third place in offense in the NHL, but are 22nd in the league in goals allowed.
In addition, it doesn't bode well for Chicago that they're penalty kill is so atrocious. Only Toronto and Columbus have a worse penalty kill and it's safe to say this weakness has not done Chicago any favors in gaining ground in the division standings. The Hawks power play has improved from its wretched start to the season and moved up into an effective tenth place.
Calgary counters that trait with their 11th place penalty kill, but aren't moving any mountains with their power play that sits at 15th place in the NHL. It's clear that Calgary has found itself in a rebuilding state as trading a veteran center in Morrison for a minor league defenseman does not indicate that they're making a big push into the post season, not to mention the fact that they sit at 11th place in the Western Conference, albeit only three points out of the final playoff spot.
It's safe to say however, that the Flames will have to greatly improve their overall play if they plan on really holding onto any playoff spot at all and in the tight western conference at this point in the season, it doesn't look likely.
Chicago has struggled defensively in terms of consistency throughout most of the season, largely in part from lack of depth. Hjalmarsson has been forced to pick up the slack of inexperienced Nick Leddy, who has struggled with his positioning and puck decisions throughout most of the season. It's something many Blackhawks fans want GM Stan Bowman to address before the trade deadline, but the cost could be too high, depending on who is actually available.
The Blackhawks will have their work cut out for them when they enter Calgary's building and will have to be focused in they plan to avoid falling into a “trap game” against their western conference neighbors.
Keep an Eye Out For -
Brendan Morrison – There is a lot of pressure on Morrison to be the second line center the Blackhawks need him to be to solidify the Hawks top two scoring lines. He has already developed solid chemistry in such a short time with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, but can he continue to flourish with them and consistently get on the score sheet?
Marian Hossa – He has five points in his three games against the Flames so far this season. Hopefully those numbers will keep growing with his new Center in Morrison and the return of Sharp.