Oct 072010

The Chicago Blackhawks begin their 84th NHL regular season campaign and defense of the organization’s 4th Stanley Cup championship tonight at 9pm (central) at the Pepsi Center in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.  The game will be televised nationwide by VERSUS.

With the turnover and cap-crunch all having been well-documented since the Hawks hoisted the Cup back on June 9th, all that’s left is to do is wait and see how the newcomers fit, and who picks up the slack.

Tonight is no more important to any Blackhawk than it is to Marty Turco.

Turco, 35, had a so-so preseason and his teammates have struggled to adjust to Turco’s eagerness to play the puck.  With Antti Niemi, Cristobal Huet and even Nikolai Khabibulin, the defense was solely responsible for retrieving the puck, clearing the zone and quarterbacking the offense.  Turco likes to audible and call plays himself.  The Hawks offense hasn’t been built that way and it will take time to find a happy medium.

Chicago should win this game easily.  Craig Anderson led the Avs with a phenomenal run last October and November, but he was a lot less his super-human self in the second half.  With the exception of Marian Hossa, the Hawk veterans mostly coasted through the preseason in cruise control and should be ready to hammer the gas tonight in Denver.

With all the talk of who the Blackhawks lost and the “damage” done to the 2010 Champs roster, veterans like Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, Kane and captain Jonathan Toews will be looking to make a statement.

Marty Turco too can address Blackhawk fans and the rest of the league tonight himself.  Something along the lines of “Niemi Who?”

And he’d better make that kind of a statement, because waiting around the corner Saturday night for the Hawks’ home opener and Stanley Cup banner unveiling are the Detroit Red Wings.  A night of celebration and raising the banner in the faces of the hated Red Wings may sound poetic to some, but once the wheels on the pomp and circumstance hault, Saturday night has all the makings of a Red Wings express reminder that while Chicago’s celebration may only be four months old, a whole new season has arrived..

If Turco struggles tonight and the Wings emerge victorious Saturday, the UC will be uproarious, but not in a good way.  Gloom and doom will take flight and Turco will feel the heat.

For this reason, no matter what happens tonight, don’t be surprised to see Joel Quenneville start Corey Crawford between the pipes Saturday night.  Quenneville has never handled his goaltenders with grace.  Yes, things worked out pretty well last season, after he completely ruined any chance Cristobal Huet had of building his confidence or getting into a groove.  Quenneville got lucky with Niemi.

Remember, Quenneville sat Huet last October in the second week of the season for Nikolai Khabibulin’s return to Chicago.  Instead of going showing confidence that the incumbent Huet could outduel the goalie Chicago showed the door, Quenneville cowered from that matchup.  The Hawks won that game 4-3 and Niemi stopped 16 of 19 Oilers shots as the Hawks completely dominated the action in front of him.  Huet watched from under a ball cap.  Instead of showing unwavering belief in his number one, Q feared the ramifications of a defeat.  Huet’s and the team’s confidence in him were dealt major blows and the goaltending controversy began.

Marty Turco is historically brutal in his career against the Red Wings.  It’ll be interesting which way Quenneville plays his hand this time around.

Some 2009-10 regular season comparisons; CHI vs AVS

Power play: CHI 18.1% (15th NHL), AVS 17.7% (16th NHL)
Penalty kill:  CHI 85.3% (4th NHL),  AVS 80.2% (21st NHL)

Shootouts: CHI 9-6 [3-4 on road] (shooters 22 for 69, 31.9% overall, 8-31, 25.8% road)
Shootouts Goalie vs Goalie
Marty Turco ’09-10: 4-8, .717 sv% (.625 hm, .793 rd)
Craig Anderson:  7-4, .686 sv% (.750 hm, .657 rd)

Win % Leading After 2: 
CHI 89.7% (7th league) 35-1-3
AVS 80.5% (24th) 33-4-4
[BUF 30-0-0. VAN 32-1-0, OTT 28-1-0]

Win % Trailing After 2:
CHI 26.9% (3rd NHL) 7-18-1
AVS 16.7 (11th NHL) 4-18-2

Goals For Per Game: CHI 3.20, AVS 2.89
Goals Against p/game: CHI 2.48, AVS 2.78

CHI 52-22-8 (112pts) 1st Central, 1st WEST
AVS 43-30-9 (95pts) 2nd Northwest, 8th WEST (Only playoff team in West under 100pts)  

There’ll be a ceremony to celebrate the 1996 Stanley Cup champion Avalanche team tonight.  They’ve been holding events in honor of the team the past two days.  All players and coaches from that team are expected to be on hand, with the exception of Chris Simon and Sandis Ozolinsh, who are on separate teams playing in the KHL.  Ozolinsh plays for Riga, who lost to the Phoenix Coyotes 3-1 in Latvia yesterday.  I suppose someone will write tomorrow about how great Peter Forsberg looks and get those rumblings started again.

Here are tonight’s lineups and expected line combinations:

Left Wing Center Right Wing
82-Tomas Kopecky 19-Jonathan Toews (C) 81-Marian Hossa
15-Fernando Pisani 10-Patrick Sharp 88-Patrick Kane
29-Bryan Bickell 36-Dave Bolland 22-Troy Brouwer
25-Viktor Stalberg 28-Jake Dowell 20-Jack Skille
  Left Defense Right Wing
Goaltenders 2-Duncan Keith 7-Brent Seabrook
30-Marty Turco 4-Niklas Hjalmarsson 8-Nick Leddy
50-Corey Crawford 6-Jordan Hendry 32-John Scott

  For the Avalanche…

Left Wing Center Right Wing
39-T.J. Galiardi 26-Paul Stastny 25-Chris Stewart
54-David Jones 9-Matt Duchene 23-Milan Hejduk
34-Daniel Winnik 37-Ryan O’Reilly 18-Brandon Yip
55-Cody McLeod 11-Philippe Dupuis 12-Kevin Porter
  Left Defense Right Defense
Goaltenders 4-John-Michael Liles 22-Scott Hannan
41-Craig Anderson 10-Kyle Cumiskey 52-Adam Foote
31-Peter Budaj 44-Ryan Wilson 27-Kyle Quincey

Blackhawks: Out: Brian Campbell (right knee sprain, 4/5 weeks), D-Nick Boynton (serving 1-game suspension for Sept 22 throat-slashing gesture in preseason game vs TB Lightning in Winnipeg)

Avalanche: Out: LW-David Koci (broken jaw – fight with LAK Kevin Westgarth in preseason), RW-Peter Mueller (concussion), D-Jonas Holos

— Fernando Pisani is getting a huge opportunity early to play on the second line.  Bryan Bickell is the benefactor of Viktor Stalberg’s listless camp.  Stalberg is where he should be; on the fourth line.  He’s lucky to be on this team and hasn’t proved he belongs to this point.  If he doesn’t produce early, he will be sent to Rockford before he hits 60 NHL (he plays #41 tonight) games played and becomes waiver eligible.

— While most point to Stastny and Duchene as the keys to Colorado’s offense, they were at their best last year when Ryan O’Reily was supporting them with some pop.  And Chris Stewart is a beast.  Look for David Jones and Brandon Yip to get off to good starts for the ‘Lanche.

— Colorado has the lowest payroll in the NHL. Barely above the league’s minimum cap “floor” at $43.1M.  The Avs have struggled to fill half their house the past two seasons so that may not change much this year or for next.  Milan Hejduk ($3M) and Adam Foote ($1M) are UFA’s next summer and likely in their last season’s here.  Scott Hannan ($4.5M) will need a turnaround year or see a paycut if he’s to return next season.  Craig Anderson ($1.8M) will be looking to at least double his pay if he makes it to free agency in July.  Peter Budaj’s deal runs out this year as well.  Colorado will have some key RFA’s to deal with though, with T.J. Galiardi, Kyle Cumiskey and David Jones needing new paper.


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