The Christmas break is right around the corner, a time for NHLers to relax, kick back and enjoy the holiday season.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, one task remains: facing the New Jersey Devils. It’s been a while since the Devils have been in town, thanks to that wonderful thing known as NHL (pre-lockout) scheduling). The Devils were here last on Nov. 3, 2010, when Martin Brodeur left the game with an injury but the Devils nevertheless won.
[RELATED: Devils return to Chicago on CSN]
But that was too long ago to factor into tonight’s game whatsoever. Rosters have changed, times have changed and the Blackhawks’ place in the standings has changed. Then, they were in a post-Stanley Cup struggle to right the ship. This season they’re just one point out of first place in the Western Conference – the Blackhawks were in first for a while before Anaheim, on an eight-game winning streak, moved ahead of them.
So before we call it a holiday break, let’s examine the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Devils-Blackhawks game.
1. Finish with a flourish. The Blackhawks were preaching the same mantra throughout the locker room this morning: end on a good note. Before they head their separate ways for Christmas, the Blackhawks want to work a few glitches out from Friday night’s game and come through strong against the Devils.
2. Take advantage of your 5-on-5 scoring ability. There’s a reason for this one: the Devils don’t make that trip to the penalty box very often. Entering tonight’s game, the Devils are averaging just 7.8 penalty minutes per game, the lowest among all NHL teams. Considering the Blackhawks’ propensity to score 5-on-5 (a league-high 93 goals), they should be OK if they don’t get many power-play opportunities.
3. Beware the wily veteran. We’re talking about the ageless Jaromir Jagr here. The 41-year-old just keeps playing, and lately he’s been playing well. Jagr enters tonight’s game on a seven-game point streak, with two goals and nine assists over that span. The Blackhawks know from facing Teemu Selanne several times a year that some 40-somethings still have great game. They need to remember that again tonight against Jagr.
4. Reacquaint yourselves with Cory Schneider. Yes, the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender will be in the Devils’ net tonight. Obviously the Blackhawks are familiar with him, and he them – Schneider is 2-1-1 with a 3.10 goals-against average in his career against the Blackhawks. They’ll want to welcome him back to Chicago in an unfriendly manner.
5. Our pick to click? We’re going to go with a guy who’s done some damage against the Devils, most likely from his days in Atlanta: Marian Hossa. In 40 career games against New Jersey, Hossa has 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists). We say he adds to that tonight.