2011-12 Game Previews
There are only two names you need to know to understand the meteoric performance of the Edmonton Oilers this young season. Both of these names have taken the team, and the league, by near-complete surprise; and in one case, has most people scratching their heads.
The names are: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nikolai Khabibulin. The 18-year-old rookie and the inconsistent netminder 20 years his senior have been the catalysts for Edmonton rising near the top of the Western Conference standings.
The Edmonton Oilers’ patience has paid off. They come into the United Center tonight sitting atop the Northwest Division, and eager for some payback against a Chicago team that has manhandled them over the past several years.
Remember a few years ago when the Calgary looked like they were going to become a big rival of the Blackhawks? The Hawks faced the Mike Kennan-led Flames in their first playoff series since 2002 in the opening round of the 2008-2009 postseason. The series (which the Hawks won 4-2) started with Marty Havlat scoring just 12 seconds into overtime in Game 1 and ended with the Hawks knocking out the Flames 4-1 in Calgary in Game 6. The Hawks went on to lose in the Western Conference final that year to Detoilet but won the Stanley Cup the following season. They have appeared in 7 playoff series since defeating the Flames. Calgary has not been to the postseason since – their last postseason goal was scored by criminal Todd Bertuzzi. Sucks to be them.
Yup, it’s been all downhill for the Flames since that point and things aren’t getting any better. Jarome Iginla continues to be one of the best hockey players of all-time, yet is still inexplicably surrounded by dogshit. One of the great mysteries of all time will be why the Flames never got this man a true center to play with. The Flames are 6-7-1 coming into the game tonight and are coming off a 3-0 loss to a surprisingly good Minnesota Wild team. Nothing about this Flames team is special (except Iginla), their PK is right in the middle of the pack and their PP only converts on 15% of its chances (a number the Hawks pathetically envy). The Flames hold the distinction of having the worst FO% in the league (46%) and won just 35% of their draws against the Wild on Tuesday night. One bright spot for Calgary tonight will be their 2007 1st round pick Mikael Backlund appearing in his 1st game of the season after missing time with a broken pinky finger. Apparently, Backlund will center a line with Iginla on it – lucky him!
It was less than one week ago that I was typing, “The Blackhawks are in first place in the Western Conference…” A lot can change in a week, huh? Not that we’ve dropped too far in the standings, but if we keep playing like we have been we’ll find ourselves battling the Columbus Blue Jackets for the coveted spot in the Western Conference basement. And wow, is Columbus ever in the basement.
This is the second meeting between these two teams, and I wrote in the first game preview that Columbus had a 1-8-1 record. Well, not a lot has changed: they have added 1 win and 3 losses. They are the proud owners of 5 (that’s “five”) points. As a matter of rub-it-in trivia, even if they had twice as many points, they would still be in last place in the West.
If you were wondering why there are so many teams bunched up so closely at the top of the Western Conference standings, it’s because every other team has been beating on Columbus like a red-headed step-pinata.
Enough about the Vancouver game, I’m trying to block it from my memory. The Blackhawks had better do the same, because like most years of late, they will have their hands full with their division-rival opponent at the other end if I-55, just for a different reason this time.
St. Louis’ 6-7-0 record does not speak to their current situation. They are a team in a state of upheaval, and it’s every man for himself when the puck drops tonight.
This is going to be a fast, brutal game. The Blackhawks will have to keep their heads to stay in it.
You remember the Vancouver Canucks, right? Colors are green, blue and white; big funny-looking whale on their jersey; coach keeps whining about other teams not playing fair? Not ringing a bell?
Well, in the playoffs last year they blew a 3 games to none lead against the Blackhawks before FINALLY squeaking by in overtime of game 7? And we had to serve up a giveaway on a silver platter with nobody between them and the goalie for them to win?
Their goalie’s an overrated head case, fans have a massive inferiority complex, and the entire province of British Columbia wanted to lynch me after I called Daniel and Henrik Sedin “The Tampon Twins?”
Okay, you got it now. Good. Well, they’re in town tonight. And it’s a great time for them to visit.
Every year the Blackhawks do a father/son trip, usually involving some kind of bonding excursion. This year it took the form of a golf outing while dodging alligators in the Florida heat. The event spilled over into the social media arena, with Daniel Carcillo dissing the Lepisto twosome for bird-watching instead of shooting birdies. But fun and games aside, we have two difficult contests to get through when we’re not wading through the Everglades looking for a #4 Titleist, starting with the new-look Florida Panthers.
This past March, we were chuckling to ourselves as we prepared to face a Panthers team assembled out of the remnants of the league-basement Florida squad from the previous year, and the bargain bin cast-offs picked up at the end of the free agent signing period. It was a joke on skates, the money-saving brainchild of former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon, and everyone expected a rout.
Everyone except the Panthers, it turns out: they caught the Blackhawks flat-footed and scrapped their way to a 3 – 2 victory. But a much different, and much more dangerous Florida team awaits the ‘Hawks tonight. Hopefully the Blackhawks’ players don’t leave their A-game on the fairway.
Wouldn’t it be a riot if the players got to dress up for Hallowe’en games? If I were better at PhotoShop I’d have prepared a whole album full of images for you for this preview of the Blackhawks vs. Predators game, but instead we’ll just have to use our imaginations.
Nashville Head Coach Bary Trotz’s (Boris Badonov) team marches into the United Center tonight for these clubs’ first meeting of the season. These teams split the 6-game series last year 3 each, the biggest difference being the margin of victory. When Nashville won, it was a one-goal game. When Chicago won, it was (for some strange reason) *exactly* three goals. Go figure.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ season so far: 10 games, 1 win, 8 losses, 1 OTL, for a total of 3 (that’s “three”) points, and they’re 0-5-0 on the road.
I really should just stop right there and just save you the time, let the game speak for itself. This team sucks, and there’s precious little argument about that.
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.
I did this a few times last season when I could, so I thought I’d share some facts heading into tonight’s contest at the RBC Center versus the Carolina Hurricanes.
While the Blackhawks are getting solid contributions from all four lines, the Hurricanes are scrambling after three straight losses. Here are their likely forward lines for the tilt:
Chad LaRose – NAME THAT STAAL … Eric Staal – Jiri Tlusty
SKINNERRRRR! – Jussi Jokinen – Tuomo Ruutu
Alexei Ponikarovsky – Brandon Sutter – Patrick Dwyer
Brett Sutter – Tim Brent (yes, that Tim Brent) / Derek Joslin - Zach Boychuk
Here are some stats/facts …
One of the curiosities of last season was the holy-crap performance of aging veteran Teemu Selanne. Despite having four decades in his rear view mirror, he notched 31 goals and a whopping 80 points in 73 regular-season games, adding a goal-per-game performance in the playoffs. Selanne and 4 other Ducks players were all north of 65 points on the 2010-11 season, and Selanne plus the other 4 will all be in the lineup tonight at the United Center: forwards Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan, and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.
But I’m sure Anaheim Head Coach Randy Carlyle is hoping his offensive stars will start to shine soon, as the Ducks are near the bottom of the barrel in scoring, just barely nudging past 2 goals per game on average. Those five players account for fully two-thirds of the Ducks total offense to date. Pay close attention to those players, you shut down the Ducks offense — almost.