Emilie from Hockey Wilderness and I decided to do a cross blog game preview for tonight's tilt of your Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Wild from Minnesota.
Questions from Emilie:
Why do you think the Hawks have started off the season 6-0?
Because they are the best team in the league obviously. I think the Hawks are undefeated right now because they are getting contribution from all four lines and are able to roll all 3 defensive lines. Look, it's still early and it shouldn't surprise anyone when the Hawks do go through a slump because it will happen. They have been getting bounces and Crow, while to me seems to be all over his crease (for better or worse),has been able to keep the Hawks within striking distance in every game so far.
Do you think Crawford has what it takes to keep this team leading the Western Conference?
Short answer no. It looks like his game has changed a lot last year. He is a lot more aggressive in his net and so far it has been working for him. But he has lost his net more than a few times and there is a fine line between making a great save and making a lucky one. Between Keith's save and Crow making a stop facing the net, it doesn't make me feel any more confident in him that he will be able to take us all the way.
How's the Hawks defense?
As long as they stay off the backs of Keith and Seabrook I think they will be fine. It's still in my opinion that they are a more balanced unit with 2 & 7 split but right now you can't argue with the chemistry that has been building between Hjalmarsson and Oduya. And a third pairing of Leddy and Rozsival/Brookbank pairs our young up and coming puck mover in Leddy with some veteran knowledge to keep him calm while still playing meaningful minutes.
What has been the Hawks recipe for success?
Well going by the numbers it's been the power play so far. The Hawks have 7 PP goals already this year whereas last year the power play was lovingly referred to as "fucking clown shoes". Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith, Bolland and Seabrook all have power play goals this year, which is also showing that both power play lines are being productive as well as shots coming in from the defense. Keith had a hard time finding shooting lanes last year and hopefully this year he will keep finding the back of the net instead of shin pads.
Their "recipe" is moving the puck, out-skating their opponents while limiting the number of shots Crow has to face. Everyone knows the Hawks can score and you are going to have to try to play physical against them to get them off their game.
What's the depth chart look like with the Hawks?
It looks kind of like a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with a bunch of names and numbers on it.
The Hawks are pretty deep with some good young talent in the system. I don't think many of them are ready to break into the NHL now but give them a little more seasoning in the minors. Clendening is making some waves, along with Brandon Pirri, Ben Smith (may remember him from his playoff heroics), Jeremy Morin, not to mention two different sets of brothers in Jimmy and Kevin Hayes and Alex and Terry Broadhurst.
Who's the enforcer?
Ugh, Brandon Bollig I guess fits the typical definition of "enforcer" most. Doesn't really contribute besides fighting, seems to pick meaningless times to drop them and isn't really ever on the ice to "enforce" anyone from taking liberties. He fought Chris Stewart of St. Louis because his normal partner Reaves was out that night. Fighting has a place in the game but the times Bollig chooses to fight rarely turns into anything inspirational.
What could de-rail the Hawks right now?
What could de-rail any hot team? Injuries and fatigue. And it is going to be even tougher to avoid those two things during the condensed shortened season. The players don't get the same recovery time and over the whole season that is going to take its toll. There will be loses and slumps, and Crawford has to be able to keep winning, even if it's ugly.
Who is biggest threat this season to the Hawks? (not necessarily rivalry)
With Detroit appearing to fall of the map in the Central I think the biggest threat will still come from within the division in the Blues. They have strong goaltending in Halak and Elliot, good young talent in Tarasenko and even douchey characters to be a problem, Backes, Jackman and Pollak to name a few.
Are you excited for the big rivalry game? (it's been said this is a big rivalry in the media)
Sorry Wild fans, but when it comes to a rivalry you don't rank very high up on the list. Maybe it will grow this year with the Wild's new acquisitions but until they meet in a heated playoff series a la Canucks or have 50 years of hate like they do with the Red Wings. There just isn't enough history there yet for me to consider this a rivalry. But between our blogs, it will certainly be entertaining.
Questions from Tazernation19:
Who has surprised you, positively, so far this season?
Jonas Brodin. He is the youngest defense player in the NHL right now, and while he has only played 3 games he has quickly become one of the top defenders on the team. He doesn't look out of place, he doesn't act timid. The first line has been virtually unstoppable, which has been fabulous for Wild fans.
Who has already let you down?
Lines 2-4. They are slowly getting back into the game, but only one goal has been scored by a forward who wasn't on the first line. The skills are there, almost every guy on the team has the talent to put pucks in the net on any goalie. For some reason, things aren't clicking on those lines yet.
What is the biggest hole in your team right now?
Defense is questionable. But most of the guys have stepped up and are playing a tough game. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the offensively talented Hawks.
What is the one thing the Wild need to do to beat the Hawks tonight?
Score. Good god, they need to score. Lines 2-4 have to really step up and help the top line out, because the Hawks roll out with multiple goal scoring threats across multiple lines. One line of hustle and skill isn't going to cut it tonight.
What is one thing you would change about the current roster?
Stronger/smarter defensemen. Rumor has it that Jared Spurgeon may be back in the line-up, which would be excellent. He is a small guy, but he is so smart on the ice that it is ridiculous. By far my favorite player on the team.
Who needs to step up from the Wild to shut down Marian Hossa?
I don't know that anyone can shut Hossa down. He's a beast this year. I think that if the team plays smart, and they don't give him very many shot chances it's possible. Harding is probably going to be in net, so he has to keep his head clear and stop his shots.
How is Ryan Suter a -5 already?
He's not anymore :P
It happens. He's playing 25+ minutes a night, and until Brodin and Scandella got called up (both within the 3 or 4 games), the only guys who could actually play defense were him, Spurgeon and Gilbert. Bad timing, not bad playing. Although he is still trying to find his game.
Where do you see the Wild at the end of the season?
Honestly, it really depends on how other teams play. Potentially, I could see the Wild pulling in a mid-position spot. Especially if the Wings continue to suck, and Nashville continues to have trouble locating their game. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.