Blackhawks-Panthers: Five things to watch

Blackhawks-Panthers: Five things to watch
October 22, 2013, 1:30 pm
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Sunshine, palm trees and moms – the Chicago Blackhawks are seeing all of them right now on their trip to Florida. They’ll see something else tonight: a few ex-teammates who helped them win their 2010 Stanley Cup. But this 2013, and the Blackhawks are reveling in another Cup while the Florida Panthers are targeting them. Here are five things to watch in tonight’s game.

1. Another Hossa victim: You take stats of Marian Hossa vs. an Eastern Conference team with a grain of salt, since most were accumulated when he also played in the East. But you nevertheless keep them in mind. Hossa has 59 points (31 goals, 28 assists) in 49 career games against the Panthers. Take it for what it is, but don’t be surprised if Hossa does well against the Panthers again.

2. More conformity: The Blackhawks liked their lines out of their 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coach Joel Quenneville said that’s the balance they’re looking for, the balance that gives them more of an opportunity to roll four lines. That’s where the Blackhawks found so much success last season, and that’s what they want to get back to in 2013-14: everyone playing, everyone getting decent minutes, everyone contributing.

[MORE: Tonight is more than business for the Hawks]

3. Three for three?: Brandon Pirri has a goal in each of his last two games for the Blackhawks. Not a bad start for a kid who’s getting his best opportunity to make a mark with the team. Don’t be surprised if Pirri’s back on that power play again, too, where he scored against the Leafs on Saturday. The kid has a scoring touch, and he could make it three goals in as many games tonight.

4. Tim Thomas factor: The Panthers have struggled out of the gate but they've got stability in goal with Thomas. The former Boston goaltender stopped 30-of-31 in the Panthers’ victory over Minnesota last weekend, and stymied 37 of 40 in a loss to the Bruins last week. It was tough to get much past Thomas before he went on his hiatus. Looks like it still is.

5. Who starts better: We've harped on the Blackhawks' habit of starting strong, but it once again comes into play. The Blackhawks have outscored their opponents 9-5 in first periods this season. The Panthers, meanwhile, have been outscored 10-3 in their first 20 minutes. Especially on the road, the Blackhawks want to keep those early strikes coming.