Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

With the Blackhawks’ poor luck with shootouts of late (or at least, until the victory over Anaheim on Tuesday), one would think it hard to find a team doing worse than Chicago in that category. Fortunately for us, the ‘Hawks visit that team tonight. Carolina, despite having only 9 games under their belt, has 3 games in the ‘OTL’ column.

The bad stats don’t end there, with 5 of their top 6 scorers sitting south of zero in the plus-minus category, and their backup goaltender boasting a 4.46 GAA.

Let’s leave it as, things could be better in the land of NASCAR.

The top players are doing what they should be. 2010-11 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, former Blackhawk draft pick Tuomo Ruutu and Captain Eric Staal are chipping in for 3 goals or more on the young season. But Staal, for instance, brings up the rear on +/- with a whopping minus-9. I doubt that’s what Carolina brass had in mind when they inked him to a 7-year, $57.75 million contract.

Though I suppose it’s hard to fault the forwards. Or, really, the goaltenders. Despite Brian Boucher sucking wind, he only has 2 starts. Cam Ward is clinging to a .919 save percentage, but with a barrage of shots flying in his direction (fourth highest in the league), his GAA hovers at 2.66. Translation: it’s the defensemen’s fault.

Joni Pitkanen, Jay Harrison, Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen, and the much-maligned (and rightfully so) Tomas Kaberle represent the bulk of the defensive corps. Gleason and Allen are a combined +10; the other 3, a combined -10. You needn’t have a Qstache to figure out who the Blackhawks should victimize tonight…

Which is not to say that this game will be easy. In fact, despite the fact that our start to the season included such unimpressive opponents as Anaheim, Phoenix and Winnipeg, the Blackhawks have had only two games that were decided by more than two goals. It’s time for us to start showing the dominance this team is capable of.

To paraphrase a redundant truism NHL coaches have taken to using, our best players have been our best players. The points list runs down from the top with Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, and Jonathan Toews. All of those forwards are in the ‘plus’ side of the plus-minus column as well, always a good sign.

As an aside, who leads the forwards in plus-minus so far? Guess. Go ahead, you’ll never guess…

But we need to start seeing more from our role-players. Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik are making appearances on the scoresheet, and Jamal Mayers and Andrew Brunette are pulling their weight. But what about Viktor Stalberg and Marcus Kruger, notching only one assist each so far this year? And though it’s not their job, we have just a single goal from the entire defensive corps combined.

And what of the defense this season? So far the six regulars are a combined +12 on the year, with Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy leading the charge. In fact, the only guy who is in the minus column is the one who has been arguably playing the best hockey: Brent Seabrook.

Which brings us to goaltending. What can you say about Corey Crawford, other than he’s arguably the best young Blackhawks goaltender since a kid named Ed Belfour racked up six straight winning seasons in the early 90′s. Crawford is proving quite effectively that last season was not a fluke, and he’s going to put the Blackhawks in a position to win every night.

Administrative nonsense: the Hurricanes will be without forwards Zac Dalpe and Anthony Stewart due to injury; all of the Blackhawks are healthy, knockonwoodofcourseitcouldchangeanyminute. Expect the usual complement of healthy scratches tonight (Rostislav Olesz, Sami Lepisto and John Scott); Crawford will start in goal for the visitors, and it would be surprising if Ward did not get the nod for Carolina.

Early start with this being an east coast visit, 6:00pm puck drop Chicago time. TV coverage is handled by Comcast SportsNet for this one; broadcast radio is WGN AM-720; XM subscribers — watch out, they have the game on channel 92 for some reason; and Sirius Premiere customers should look for the game on channel 207.

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