Hawks Prepare to Battle Islanders
The Chicago Blackhawks will look to rebound tonight from their previous 4-1 trouncing by the defensive-minded Phoenix Coyotes when they get ready to face the struggling New York Islanders at the United Center. This will be the first meeting between the two teams this season.
All too often goaltenders are evaluated solely based on their recent statistics with little consideration for how the team in front of them is playing. This tends to happen because, well, it's just easier.
Corey Crawford, who is expected to get the start tonight, has somewhat unfortunate statistics in his last 5 games. More specifically, it's difficult to pin-down the inconsistency of not just Crawford's play, but the team play as a whole. Crawford has allowed 10 goals in his last 3 games, albeit going 2-1 during that time. However, this is not an ingredient in the recipe for a successful hockey game.
Let's try to be realistic in acknowledging that despite Crawford's mediocre play, the defense in front of him has been less than adequate. In this particular struggle with their defense and goaltending for the Blackhawks, a lot of it stems from a lack of confidence. It's very easy for both the defense and the goaltending to get out of synch when the other starts to lose consistency. When the goaltender starts allowing stoppable goals here and there, defensemen start to second-guess decisions on the ice in their own zone, which can then lead to more goals against and so on and so on.
Corey Crawford will indeed need to be sharp tonight in order to out-play Al Montoya, who has played well in his return from injury for the Islanders, going 2-1 and only allowing 4 goals on 80 shots.
Remember that thing called "Defense?" The Blackhawks defensive corps has struggled maintaining basic defensive principles in front of Crawford, such as picking up an opposing forward right on the door step and taking away the passing lanes. I would also suspect that Eddie-O was NOT pleased with the Hawks' D-men and their lack of an active stick. Blackhawks need to just tighten things up in their own zone and keep the play simple. Focusing their efforts on staying physical down low in front of Crawford and at the half-boards will help keep them out of trouble.
Penalty Kill - Blackhawks have the worst penalty-kill in the NHL at 74%. The Islanders penalty-kill isn't much better at 81% so there isn't much of an advantage in that area. Chicago's defense and goaltending should also benefit from the fact that the Islanders have the worst offense in the NHL, posting a troubling 43 goals on the season. New York's power play is also below average, with a 15.3% efficiency rate.
Goals and Such - I can't count how many times I saw a Blackhawks forward in or near the slot with the puck and opt to make a pretty pass, rather than take the necessary shot to either score or generate a rebound. That just has to stop. Chicago's power play is currently clicking at 16.8% which is good for 17th in the NHL. Not bad, but not great either. Unfortunately for Chicago, the Islanders, like the Blackhawks, do not take a lot of penalties and are near the top for lowest penalty minutes league-wide. So don't expect tonight to be a special teams' battle.
Keep an Eye Out For - Patrick Sharp: He has 6 goals and 11 points in his last 9 games.
Injuries - Blackhawks are expected to play their full lineup, while New York will be without Mark Eaton and Jay Pandalfo.
Game time is 8:30/7:30c and televised on CSN-Chicago and MSG Plus.