Just past the midway point of the season, Kris Versteeg has come on out of nowhere and is leading the team in scoring. Brian Campbell is third, boasting a team-high 31 assists. Tomas Kopecky has amassed 19 points, but his -12 tells a bigger story than his point total. And Jack Skille is still not showing the spark that General Manager Dale Tallon felt he would bring to the team, with only 6 points on the year.
Could be a paragraph out of January 2010, could it not? Well, maybe not the part about Steeger. But alas, no, dear reader: this is the current state of the Florida Panthers. Chicago South, as it were, as Tallon continues to stack his deck with former members of the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup-winning roster — adding as-yet-unsigned free agent John Madden just three weeks ago.
Is it paying off?
Much like the Boston game Oct. 15, the Blackhawks seemed to shift into neutral while sitting on a one-goal lead in the third period they hoped to close out.
And much like that contest, the opposition was able to tie it up and bring it to a shootout. At least they got two points out of this one, beating Florida 3-2 following the game of Candyland
I’m going to try something new and get even deeper into the Boxing theme here. Let me know if it works:
Jabs (Quick hits)
♦ Duncan Keith missing tonight didn’t have much affect against a mediocre team like Florida, and hopefully it won’t matter much against Tampa Bay, either. The Lightning have totaled three goals in their last two games. Sean O’Donnell and Nick Leddy seem a capable pair to be able to make up for Keith’s absence.
♦ Corey Crawford played a fantastic game tonight and kept the ‘Hawks ahead for as long as he could once they knocked back the throttle a bit. Allowing 43 shots obviously isn’t good, but the Panthers totaled 42 against Winnipeg four nights before. They fire the puck, so no need to panic, really.
Haymakers (Solid plays from the ‘Hawks)
♦ Jonathan Toews made a hell of a play to step in front of the pass and go hard to the net to score his goal. Vintage Captain.
♦ Patrick Kane once again showed just how well he can read a play to make the correct pass, firing it across the ice through the defense to set up Marian Hossa. Anyone shocked it was Tomas Kopecky who came into the play late to leave the slot wide open to allow that pass?
♦ Crawford was solid all night. Tough to pinpoint a single moment, but he was turning away a relentless amount of shots from the Panthers’ firing squad.
Counter-punches (The opposition)
♦ Both goals were tough on Crawford, who didn’t have much of a chance on either. Weiss’ goal took a tough bounce away from Crow, and Jovo’s goal was simply a great play by him.
Low Blows (Not-so-good stuff)
♦ The Blackhawks looked absolutely awful on their lone power play opportunity, once again making an otherwise talented team look silly. The ‘Hawks have scored 31 of their 38 goals at even strength, and they have one less short-handed goal (3) than they do with the man advantage. Just strange for a team with so much offensive talent.
♦ Kaner really has that move down, saving a point for the ‘Hawks after they put it in cruise control once again. The Blackhawks need to learn how to finish these games out rather than riding a one-goal lead and hoping to hold on with conservative play. Nonetheless, Crawford stoned both shots in the shootout to pick up the win.
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.