(Welcome Byron Bader, a long time reader and new contributor here at FN! His first article is today’s FGD)
The Blackhawks are as close to a dynasty as you’ll find in the modern, parity-filled, NHL. The reigning Stanley Cup champions are the only team to have won two Stanley Cups in close succession (three year span) since the 2004-05 lockout. In fact, they are the only team to have won two Stanley Cups since the 2004-05 lockout.
The Blackhawks are the reigning Presidents Trophy champs, having opened up last season by going on a 24-game point streak and setting a new NHL record. This year, they currently sit as the league’s best after the first quarter and barring extraordinary circumstances (e.g., Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Keith and Seabrook all going down with severe injuries at the same time), Chicago’s a good bet to finish this year as one of the league’s most elite teams. And given their ability to retain their greatest assets at reasonable cap hits and trade valuable pieces in cap-crunch years for high draft picks (e.g., Ladd, Byfuglien, Bolland, etc.) they will no doubt be an elite team for at least the next three to five years.
The Blackhawks and the Flames are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Chicago essentially started their rebuild when they drafted Keith and Seabrook in 2002 and 2003, respectively, and built their elite core with Toews and Kane in 2006 and 2007. Their rebuild officially came to an end when they added the free agent pieces of Campbell (now playing in Florida) in 2008 and Hossa in 2009 to bring them over the top.
All in all the rebuild took about five years (2003 to 2008) and there were some very lean years in that time. If the Blackhawks are the blueprint for success, the Flames are looking at about another four years until they become a good to great hockey team, having officially started their rebuild this year. Calgary may have sped that process up by a few years with some savvy late round selections recently as well as bringing in medium-high potential prospects/players for essentially nothing (e.g., 4th and 5th rounders).
If I’m a betting man, tonight’s opponents are a safe bet for this one given the disparity in skill between the two teams. However, after some abysmal years against the Blackhawks in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, the Flames have competed hard against the Blackhawks recently. In fact the Flames won the last content on November 3, on the back of Reto Berra’s first start where he made 42 saves on 44 shots, posting a .955 save percentage. Chicago is going to be very aware of this, so barring another game-breaking performance from Berra, I don’t like the Flames’ chances.
Here’s how the lines should look tonight according to Pat Steinberg at the Fan960:
Cammalleri – Stajan – Stempniak
Baertschi – Monahan – Hudler
Bouma – Colborne – D. Jones
B. Jones – Backlund – McGrattan
Russell – Brodie
Wideman – Butler
O’Brien – Smid
Blair Jones is sizzling hot right now after returning from Abby to join the big club. He’s got one goal, one shot and a 100% shooting percentage. Right now he’s on pace for 60 shot and 60 goals. He might fall off a little bit, say 10 goals and 100 shots, but not by much. In all fairness, it’s great to see B. Jones finally get a chance after putting up 21 in 16 with Abbotsford. He looked comfortable on Friday. Now that Jackman has been shipped out to Anaheim, hopefully Jones stays up for a significant period before we start auditioning prospects later in the season and helps create an ok 4th line with either Backlund or Colborne and Brian McGrattan.
The Baertschi, Monahan, Hudler line, which appears to have been promoted from the third to the second unit now, will stay together. They looked good for the majority of the game against Florida, especially Baertschi who finally saw a little bit of PP time and put one in the back of the net on the PP.
Berra is going to get his 7th straight start. Hartley is giving Berra all the rope in the world right now to see what he really has in him. Ramo will likely draw back in on the back-to-back with LA and Anaheim over the weekend.
TJ Galiardi looks to be sitting again. I might be inclined to put his speed in for this game and sit Bouma or McGrats but Harts hasn’t called me for my advice yet. Galiardi’s out with back spasms.
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad – Michael Handzus – Patrick Kane
Kris Versteeg – Brandon Pirri – Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy – Sheldon Brookbank
The Blackhawks have one of the most well-rounded teams in the league. Any team where Marcus Kruger is your 4th centreman, Patrick Kane plays on your second line and Nick Leddy serves on the 3rd d-pairing should be feared and they will be tonight.
Chicago re-acquired Kris Versteeg just under two weeks ago (while also getting Florida to keep half of his salary, the dirty buggers). He was ecstatic to leave Florida and return to Chicago where he started his career and won a Stanley Cup in 2010. He started off playing on a line with Kane and put up a few points in his first few games. However, after the initial excitement of returning to the Windy City, his production has trailed off a little and he’s slid down to the third line for the time being. That could change during the game, however.
Hossa, after attending to some personal matters, is back in the lineup and will likely be with Toews and Sharp. That doesn’t help the Flames chances.
Looks like Antti Raanta will get his first start in the bigs tonight. The Blackhawks signed the rookie Raanta in the summer. They brought him up recently to serve as Corey Crawford’s backup when Khabibulin went down with an injury. He officially made his debut on November 19, 2013, when he played two plus periods against Colorado in relief of Corey Crawford. He allowed two goals on 16 shots in 47 minutes of action and Chicago lost 5-1.
Sum It Up
The game has nearly zero implications in the standings. The Blackhawks are vying for the President’s Trophy and another Stanley Cup and the Flames are vying for good efforts and a Top 3 pick at the 2014 draft. Here’s hoping for an exciting game. The Flames have had plenty of rest, being off since Friday, and should be ready to go. If the Flames show up from the beginning and give it their all it could be a close game, maybe even a 4th straight extra time appearance for the Flames. If the Flames take a period off, the Blackhawks may very well rip them apart with their offensive skill. The teams have had some great matchups over the past few years so it could be a good one.
Note: Don’t forget the 8pm start time.
Also: join us for a live chat tonight!!