Gameday Preview: Blackhawks Down

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 30: Tomas Kopecky  of the Chicago Blackhawks receives congratulations from teammates after scoring a goal against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on November 30, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)


Last meeting, the Flames finally broke whatever spell the Hawks had over them, blasting their nemesis 7-2 at the Dome mid-November. Similar to Calgary’s recent beating at the hands of the Canucks by the same score, the game was rather close until the third frame. With Chicago pressing, the Flames scored a demoralizing goal to go up 5-1 and then a dejected Marty Turco started letting in long bombs from outside the top of the face-off circles. At the time, many wondered if the win would shake the Flames out of their doldrums; alas.

Of course, The club the Flames beat in November isn’t really the Chicago juggernaut that has been kicking them around the last couple of years. The summer sell-off took it’s toll on the Hawks depth at every position, neutering one of their biggest strengths. They still own a formidable top end with Hossa, Toews, Kane, Sharp, Keith and Seabrook, but the drop-off after those guys is formidable. Viktor Stalberg, Thomas Kopecky and Troy Browuer have all been pressed into top 6 duty this season, while rookies Jack Skille*, Jake Dowell, Jeremy Morin, Bryan Bickell and Nick Leddy have all taken turns as depth players. Dave Bolland and Fernando Pisani are the only established "support" players at the bottom of the rotation and both have missed some time this year.

*(Skille was picked 7th overall in 2005 by Chicago. He’s 23-years old, playing just 10 minutes a night and probably wouldn’t be in the NHL if Chicago had any other options. Just another reminder that even really high draft picks can turn out to be meh.)


Chicago is also vulnerable when it comes to their third defensive pairing. On-again, off-again NHLer Nick Boynton is the best of the lot, sharing duties with the perpetually slow Jassen Cullimore and the always mediocre Jordan Hendry. Imagine three Anton Babchuks and I think you’re close. That’s why Keith (27:23/game) and Seabrook (25:05/game) are playing some of the heaviest minutes in the league this year.

Probably the best news for the Flames is Marian Hossa will be out of the line-up this evening. Even with Toews at al on the roster. Quenville has mostly sent Hossa out against the big boys this year. He wasn’t outstanding the last time the two teams met, but a guy of his caliber isn’t always going to be mediocre. Better to not have to face him at all.

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Marty Turco can only watch as the puck sails past his glove for a goal by St. Louis Blues David Perron in the first period at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on October 22, 2010.  UPI/Bill Greenblatt Photo via Newscom

Finally, in net Chicago may be facing a situation similar to last year that saw Antti Niemi usurp Cristobal Huet. Marty Turco has been relentlessly mediocre through the early going, sporting a .901 SV% through 19 games. Back-up Corey Crawford, a 25-year old AHL regular, has been better in all situations than Turco so far (.914 SV% overall, .916 SV% at ES) and there’s talk the youngster make take over if the erstwhile Dallast Star is unable to reel things in. Should that happen, it will be a lot easier to bear for Chicago owners this time around, given Turco’s relatively modest salary of $1.3 million.

  • T&A4Flames

    true the hawks are not the same powerhouse club,however they are the champs at home coming off a shutout loss to archrival vancouver. the absense of big buff and andrew ladd is truly significant. skille would have been an nhler earlier if he was with a different franchise. what remains to be concerned for the flames is the big guns. there will be no post birthday party hangover for pat kane.

    • On Skille: how do you figure? He’s 23 now and playing 10 minutes a night on a team with guys like Stalberg and Brouwer in the top 6 rotation. Five years past his draft date and he’s still a marginal NHLer. Im sure he would have made other teams with lesser depth, but that would have been by default given his draft pedigree.

      He’s in the league so it’s not a total waste, but I’m guessing the Hawks were hoping for more when they took him inside the top 10.

      On CHI 2004 draft: the only player they got out of that one worth a damn is Dave Bolland, with maybe a tip of the cap to Troy Brouwer. They whiffed on Cam Barker at 3rd overall. That’s actually a pretty mediocre job for a club that had 17 (!!) draft picks that day, six of which were inside the top 100.

      CHI best single draft recently was probably 2002 when they took Anton Babchuk, Duncan Keith, James Wisniewski and Adam Burish.

      As for today, I agree the Flames will really have to look out for the Blackhawks top guns. Hossa may not be in, but Sharp, Toews and Kane can certainly still hurt you.

      • kent, i think we both can agree that the hawks have used the draft exceptionally well. they filled every role on the club. surely winning toews and kane sets them miles ahead, however it is the bolland,brouwers,keiths,buff,burish picks that have set them apart. sure cam barker at third overall may not have flourished as desired however they parlayed this into nick leddy. asset management.

  • T&A4Flames

    This goaltending controversy seems somewhat similiar to what happended at the start of last season with the Red Wings. Your veteran number 1 goalie(Osgood,Turco) plays mediocre or worse, and your back up, a guy who’s been in the AHL for a while(Howard, Crawford)is given the mantle. I wouldnt be surprised if Crawford takes it and runs with it.

  • SmellOfVictory

    On a related note: did any expect Ladd to be putting up the ridiculous point totals he has been this year? I thought a small boost might be expected, but he’s just killing it right now.