Jesse Rogers, from ESPNChicago.com's Blackhawks blog, answered a few Blackhawks questions for us to help get you prepared for tonight's game. Jesse will also be joining us for our live in-game chat tonight.
Q: Give us a scouting report on the Blackhawks, who are now on top of the Western Conference. What are the team's strengths? Weaknesses?
A: The Hawks have ascended to the top of the standings because of a great puck posession game which starts with a very active defense that gets the puck out of the Hawks zone and up the ice. From there the quickness and skill of their top nine forwards takes over. Bottom line, the Hawks spend very little time in their zone and end up wearing down defenses and goalies with pressure in the offensive zone. Their power play has been just average and the numbers prove that. They do work better on the road with the man advantage as they get back to basics it seems. Lately, their d-men have made some mistakes.that have cost them. Sometimes they dont make the safe pass and turnovers ensue but all in all their top 4 defensemen have had great years.
Q: Patrick Kane is playing at very high level (was named a star of the week by the NHL). What makes him so good?
A: Patrick Kane has made a huge jump from year 2 to year 3 in the league and its not a fluke. He told everybody at the start of camp that he worked his butt off this past offseason to be stronger and quicker and he is exactly that; and remember he was pretty quick to begin with. When he has the puck, watch out. Teams have to back down and while all eyes are on him, he's looking for a teamate and usually finds him. No question in my mind, he's the team mvp to this point. And he has a lightning quick wrost shot to boot.
Q: Who are some other Blackhawks players that Stars fans should keep an eye on?
A: Joel Quenneville has balanced out the Hawks 3 lines so it is hard to focus on one of them. When Marian Hossa came back he loaded up the talent on the top line but has now spread things out. Hossa is so strong around the puck, especially poke checking it away with his long stick, Stars D-men have to be careful. They may think they're leaving the zone with it and there's Hossa poking it away. On defense, Seabrook and Keith are obvious top guys but Brian Campbell is playing his best hockey right now. Very smooth and making great decisions.
Q: Who will be the goalie tonight? Can you tell us about his season so far?
A: Cristobal Huet is in goal tonight and over the last month or so he's been very good. He had an absolute rough start to the season, almost losing his job but I think he had to get used to this new puck posession game of the Hawks. He doesnt see many shots and will go long stretches of time between them. Thats not always easy for a goaltender. At the begnning of the season he was giving up soft goals on very few shots against. Now, he seems to be more agressive and ready whenever they come. He does go down quickly, much quicker than his back-up so a fake and an extra pass can get him down and out.
Q: What (or who) are the major reasons that the Blackhawks' penalty kill is tops in the league?
A: The success of the penalty kill is just an off-shoot of the Hawks puck posession game. Quick defensemen jumping on the puck with small and skilled forwards doing the rest. John Madden and Johnathan Toews are two of the better defensive centermen you will run across and the Hawks have a host of others that can do the job as well, including Hossa. Again, watch out for the long stick up near the blue line. He can poke check and then be off to the races.
Q: What else should Stars fans know about the Blackhawks and tonight's game?
A: The way to get to the Hawks is to somehow provide some pressure of your own on the Hawks defensemen. It can force them into mistakes and also force them into simply playing defense instead of thiking offense. Hawk opponents have a lot of "one and dones." They get one chnce or shot and then the puck goes the other way. Puck retrieval and sustained pressure is the only way to take the Hawks off their game. And you have to be physical with Kane and the other small forwards and not get caught watching the guy with the puck. If the shots for and against are similiar than Dallas is doing their job and has a chance, if its heavily in the Hawks favor (which it ususally is) than its very tough to win.
Q: Injury report?
A: The Hawks had a couple key guys with the flu. An unsung defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson is back in there and Kris Versteeg also will return. Adam Burish, a tough, 4th line guy has been out all seaosn as is their second line center, DaveBolland. Patrick Sharp plays that spot though he's not a true center.