The Chicago Blackhawks come to town to play the Wings. A special start time of 2 pm so don't forget that. The Blackhawks are 10 points behind the Red Wings, a pace that many predicted once the games played even up from the big discrepancy of the early season points totals. The Blackhawks are 4-0-1 in their last 5 and have ridden the success of Corey Crawford all season.
Today's morning skate will take a bit of a different route as we talk with Sam Fels of Second City Hockey.
Winging It In Motown: If Tomas Kopecky was actually born with hands, how many goals would he have?
Sam: Well, does he come with feet and biceps too? Kopecky is Public Enemy #1 in my eyes, but mostly because he's so infuriating. During the first part of the year, he pulled a baby Holmstrom act which worked perfectly with his master Hossa's Man on Fire act, as Hossa piled up 11 points in 7 games. But then Hossa got hurt, and Kopecky became convinced he was Hossa. Except he can't win a board battle to save his life, needs an hour glass to time the space he needs to get a shot off, and his attention or ability to backcheck is suspect at best. But he continues to earn Top 6 minutes. And then he'll flash you one moment where he steals the puck from Shea Weber and then water bottles it from three feet out and you wonder why he can't do that all the time. Basically, he's not tough or grindy enough to be a 4th liner, doesn't have the defensive awareness to be on the checking line, and not quite the skill to be on the top two, but enough of all these to fill in on any of them if surrounded by the requisite skills on them to be competent. But basically he's here to wash Hossa's car. So to answer your question, 21.
The rest of the answers, a quick preview and the prediction form are after the jump.
Winging It: Who has been the biggest surprise this season?
Sam: I wish there were more candidates. Bryan Bickell is on his way to a 20-goal season, but he doesn't play to his size enough and need an ice age to get off what is a wicked wrister (the wings have found this out twice this year), and doesn't get to the front of the net enough. Fernando Pisani has turned into a decent third liner, but he'll fall apart soon. Troy Brouwer did this last year but no one noticed. So we'll go with Brian Campbell, who I've always liked but has simply been awesome since he came back from injury. You could also vote for Corey Crawford who might contend for the Calder, but he's kind of our Jimmy Howard in that the organization has always believed in him but let him overcook in the A.
Winging It: The biggest disappointment?
Sam: Far too many candidates for this one, as Kaner has been more concerned with getting shitfaced and balls-deep all season than production. But it has to be Duncan Keith. He is now the Hawks highest paid player, and he's buckled under the pressure. He's played as if he's had a family member hostage the entire time, making decisions far too quick and turning the puck over as if it had ebola. He seemingly can't help but fire shots off the first forward's shin pads, he must have had 1043 shots blocked so far. And he's a big culprit of our pathetic power play, as he just can't be arsed to at least tie up a stick in front. Other than that he's been fine.
Winging It: So Brian Campbell is a +23 and Duncan Keith is -3. The hell? I mean I know +/- isn't everything but it means something when there's a discrepancy that big.
Sam: Keith's problems are mentioned above, but once he calms down and deals with his paycheck I think he should be fine. Campbell has been ridiculously good, to the point he's also the Hawks best penalty killer on the blue line (Behind the Net told me so). But he's been so calm and solid in his own zone, and sends play the other way, though his point total might not reflect it as Quenneville still relegates him to a mess of a second unit of no reason. I hesitate to think where this team would be without him. The best reflection is that before he came back his normal partner Hjalmarsson was about a -10, and now he's a +2. Without being insulting, the last time we encountered the Wings Campbell was the best player on the ice, and I'm sure Wings fans will remember.
Winging It: What's the biggest thing the Blackhawks need to improve to defend their title?
Sam: Simply, their best players need to be their best players. Keith needs to stop giving himself a visual prostate exam, and spreading his disease to Seabrook. While Toews and Kane's numbers may look all right, they simply have not been there most nights, though they might say all the right things so no one questions it. Since his opening storm, Hossa has three goals. That just won't get it done. Health has been a concern with all of them, but they've had five days off now and will get another next week. It's time for them to be them. The dirty little secret around here is that for the final two rounds during last year' run, those three combined for four goals. That won't do this time. They're capable of so much more. But they won't have Versteeg, Ladd, and Byfuglien bailing them out if they don't. Dave Bolland has recently been on fire, and Patrick Sharp has been an assassin all year, if not in his own zone. If combined with the top three being what they're supposed to, along with Keith and Seabrook returning to something like their lockdown best, the Hawks can still be mighty formidable.
Once again, thanks to Sam for helping us out because you know who would be a better authority on the Blackhawks than a Red Wings' fan (with some exceptions) ? A Blackhawks blogger...duh.
- Jimmy Howard will start in net tonight. Jimmy played well at times against the Blues but he also had quite a few "oh shit" moments. But overall and considering his knee injury, he was pretty solid. He'll need to be sharp again today as the Blackhawks are visiting.
- Did I mention that it's a 2PM start today? Good. You're paying attention
- Something that we made note of in the Nabokov piece's comments yesterday is that Jordan Pearce has been called up and Joey MacDonald sent down. This is just a simple roster maintenance procedure as MacDonald was close to reaching the 30 days/10 games limitation for call-ups. Hopefully, we don't see any of Pearce though other than him charting faceoffs.
- DO NOT, under any circumstances, give the Blackhawks a power play. At 24.7% they lead the league and although individual players on the Wings have been great on the PK, the overall unit has struggled. Currently, the PK is 17th in the NHL at 82.1%
- DO, as often as possible, get on the power play. Despite the top PP unit in the league, the Hawks have an even worse PK at 77.4%. Stay out of the box, keep them in it and life will be easier.
- Things more likely to happen than Kopecky not doing something to piss you off: the NHL gets a real TV contract, Colin Campbell suspends/fines people in an appropriate fashion (see: Glencross,Lombardi) iTunes doesn't ask for an update, Nickelback makes a song that you can listen to for more than 3 seconds without wanting to open the nearest window to jump, drunk idiots at games yell "pass the puck to the forward cycling out from behind the net while the defense is collapsing on the puck-side attack!" instead of "SHOOOOOOOOOOOT!". Your turn, I'm tired--I fell asleep writing this post at 2 am and then got woken up by my alarm at 7.
- Score Prediction: 4-2 Detroit. I think this will be one of the more entertaining games of the year because both teams always have that extra amount of juice (oddly, the juice is bile...don't drink the juice) when playing one another and it translates to exciting games on the ice.
- Player of the game prediction: Henrik Zetterberg. Hank's been a big leader in Pavel's absence, he steps up again.
- For Discussion: because this will be like an open thread before the game, discuss any Nabokov happenings if you want.