ST. PAUL, Minn. – It’s December, it’s Minnesota and its cold outside. But it’s also hockey time in Minnesota, and since we’re at one of our favorite buildings in the league, we’ll get over the outside chill.
And not long after getting off the road, the Chicago Blackhawks are right back on it. Hey, they won six straight away from home, so outside of the constant plane travel we don’t hear anyone complaining.
Now the Blackhawks take on the Wild, who are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but are coming off a 2-0 victory over the Flyers here on Monday. So while we solve our cold issues with a piping hot bowl of cream of wild rice soup, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blackhawks-Wild game.
1. The Blackhawks have had to make some second- and third-line changes with Michal Handzus (ill) and Andrew Shaw (upper body) out, Brandon Pirri sent down and Jeremy Morin and Joakim Nordstrom brought up. Of those two, Nordstrom will be learning more on the fly, centering the third line with Morin and Sheldon Brookbank. He said he’s learned a lot in his time in Rockford; he’ll get a true test of that against the Wild.
2. It’s the battle of the “we’re great when we score first” teams! The Blackhawks are 15-0-3 this season when they score first. The Wild are 12-1-2 when they score first. Has the first goal of a game ever meant more? Yeah, probably. But it shows how good each squad is when they grab that 1-0 advantage. We’re guessing it’ll loom large again tonight.
3. The Wild have been stingy with 5-on-5 goals this season. Entering tonight’s game, the Wild have allowed just 34 5-on-5 goals this season, the fewest of any NHL team – compare that with Chicago which, despite its great record, has allowed 51. Then again, the Blackhawks have scored the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL this season, with 73. Considering the firepower, do the Blackhawks dent that Wild even strength preventative armor tonight?
4. Keeping the fourth line intact. It may seem odd that, with the injuries and the moves the Blackhawks made yesterday, that they would leave that fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith alone. But that line has been good. And why break up a good thing, especially if it’s just for a game (maybe two) at most? That’s Joel Quenneville’s way of thinking, and we figure their familiarity will pay off in some regard tonight.
5. Who shall click tonight? The Blackhawks were one jovial bunch after today’s skate, so we don’t doubt they’ll rebound as a team after Tuesday’s tough loss. The Blackhawks usually respond with a big victory following a loss. But individually, we’ll pick Corey Crawford to rebound most.