When I look at the Chicago Blackhawks, I can't help but be reminded of the Predators from 2005-2007. High-flying, free-wheeling, offense-first approach. Attacks built on a puck-moving defense and strong first-pass. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they aren't all good memories, are they? Those Preds teams experienced overwhelming regular season success, but fizzled out in the first round of the playoffs for two straight years to the San Jose Sharks--in dominant fashion, even. Even in the regular season, en route to record campaigns, I sometimes found something lacking in the way we'd win games. Often times, we would win a game based on a timely breakaway and Vokoun bailing us out the rest of the way, and I'd think to myself, "wow, we did not deserve to win that game." The conclusion I could draw from that is that we were a team built on the flash of guys like Paul Kariya and Marek Zidlicky, but lacked the warrior mettle necessary to take it to the next level. Fast-forward four years, and I feel good about this current squad and their playoff chances. While there may not be as much skill in our lineup from top to bottom, I think the balance between talent and grit is finally where it needs to be. And I think that equilibrium is lacking for the Blackhawks. While they can put the puck in the net with furious ease, and while they have a defense with an impressive resume, the way it all comes together just doesn't impress me. While it's true that they took the season series from us four games to two, we didn't appear outmatched in any of them. So with all of that said, let's break it down:
WHY WE WANT TO PLAY THE BLACKHAWKS
I've established my thoughts on their team makeup, but if you want something more tangible, look no further than their goaltending. Cristobal Huet has been a financial anchor since the 'Hawks signed him to his ill-advised, huge contract. These days, he's a roster spot anchor, as well. The Blackhawks have limped down the stretch, and Huet's inept work in the nets has been a big contributor. Finnish rookie Antti Niemi has fared slightly better, but has zero playoff experience and only a partial season of NHL experience, altogether. It's confusing to me that the Hawks have placed so much emphasis on signing guys like Marian Hossa, retaining guys like Patrick Sharp, but leaving their goaltending in such a questionable state.
In addition to goaltending, the Blackhawks' defensive corps, long the pride of Hot Dog City, has seen its share of both injuries and personal slumps in the past month. Brian Campbell is out for the season, Kim Johnsson has no timetable for return after suffering a serious concussion, and Brent Seabrook has been in and out of the lineup since taking a vicious shot from Anaheim's James Wisniewski. On top of the injuries, Duncan Keith has been uncharacteristically shaky. Typically near the top of the league's plus\minus leaderboard, he is a -11 since the end of the Olympics. The Blackhawks are 5-5-2 in their last 12 games.
WHY WE DON'T WANT TO PLAY THE BLACKHAWKS
Last season, a fair amount of teams did what I'm doing here today: underestimated the 'Hawks. Ask the Flames and Canucks what they got for not taking Chicago seriously. For whatever deficiencies the 'Hawks may seem to have on paper, they did manage to put it together last season. While the Bulin Wall has moved on, they've complemented the firepower of Jonathan "Don't call me Toes" Toews and Patrick "Where's my change?!" Kane with mercenary scorer Marian Hossa. Question the heart, defensive prowess, or goaltending of the Chicago Blackhawks--but believe that they can punish you offensively.
Preds' 2009 first round pick Ryan Ellis and his Windsor Spitfires are up 3 games to none over much-hyped prospect Tyler Seguin and the Plymouth Whalers. It doesn't hurt that some of his teammates include Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, Adam Henrique, and Greg Nemisz. It's practically a who's-who of top prospects. Never hurts to come from an environment where you play with the best, though.
With Colorado's win over Vancouver in the shootout, and Calgary's loss to SJ, the Flames are officially eliminated. You've gotta think heads are going to roll in Cowtown. It's a shame, too...I've enjoyed having a GM in the league who resembles "Sloth" from "The Goonies."
GAMES OF NOTE FOR 04/07/10
Aside from our own, we have:
Columbus at Detroit
We want C-Bus to take this one, obviously. If the BlueJackets can do the unthinkable and upset Detroit at home, I think that it will come down to the Preds or Kings for fifth, provided we take care of business.
St Louis at Chicago
Let's go BLUES! Yuck, I don't like the taste of that in my mouth. At any rate, best to keep Chicago in second place, and San Jose OUT of second, in case we end up in the 7 spot.
Colorado at Edmonton
Not a ton of importance placed on this game, but it would be nice if the Oilers can pull it out, and end any possibility of the Avs surpassing us.
Preds at Coyotes...9 pm tonight! Hopefully my sleepy morning tomorrow will be one filled with triumph and victory, not rage and regret!