After playing a very loaded schedule against Eastern Conference teams in this early going, the Chicago Blackhawks see a familiar opponent tonight in the Minnesota Wild. There won’t be as much at stake between the two as there was last spring, when the Blackhawks eliminated the Wild in five games, but it’s nevertheless a division matchup under the new alignment.
So before puck drop, let’s look at Five Things for tonight’s game.
1. Remember yesterday when we said the Wild’s goaltending situation was a bit injury-riddled? It still is. Niklas Backstrom is starting, although he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he’s not quite 100 percent off a knee injury. Josh Harding (lower body) didn’t even make the trip, which leaves Jonas Gustafsson as the backup. The Blackhawks need to get to Backstrom early and often. They’ve piled up a lot of first-period shots in most games this season. That can’t change tonight.
2. Jeremy Morin will make his 2013-14 Blackhawks debut tonight on the third line with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. The Blackhawks’ third line has been more noticeable as of late – it’s also contributed some much-needed offense -- and Morin needs to bring that energy to keep it that way. Morin was on the bubble to make the Blackhawks out of training camp, so he has his motivation to make an impact now.
3. Brad Mills was also called up from Rockford yesterday and will make his Blackhawks debut tonight. A physical forward, Mills can help in a variety of ways. But where he could make his biggest contribution is on that struggling penalty kill. The Blackhawks need to get better at it, consistently better. They didn’t allow the Wild a power-play goal in the first round last spring. Times have changed, and the Blackhawks need to either stay out of the box or keep goals out of their net on the kill. They hope Mills can help here.
4. Marcus Kruger’s getting a shot at the second-line center job again, with Michal Handzus sidelined with an upper-body injury. Kruger’s played there before (mostly when Dave Bolland had his injury issues last season). Hey, I like Kruger at second-line center. Can take a hit (especially along the boards, as well documented), willing to go to the tough areas, drives the net and brings a little more speed than Handzus. That could be the spark that line needs to really get rolling.
5. Just a hunch (or a pick to click, I guess you’d say) that Jonathan Toews has a big game tonight. No real reason why. Just sounds good.