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.
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.