So far in December, the Blackhawks are 5-2-0... We've all had our fun beating up on the Blues and Lightning but now with the Hawks welcoming the Bruins to Chicago, the schedule gets a bit harder. The remaining games this year are against teams that are at or near the top of their division, except for the Stars - they're stuck in 4th in a very competitive Pacific division, actually, their 39 points would put them ahead of Boston in the Northeast.
And speaking of beantown, things are a little shaky as they're preparing to skate in this year's winter classic. They've dropped their last two games and have fallen into a tie with Ottawa for second in the division by Buffalo. Injuries are a fairly big problem with Milan Lucic out a while longer with an ankle problem and Mark Stuart is out over a month with a broken sternum - which sounds quite painful.
Other than injuries, the Bruins seem to have inherited the Blackhawks' goalie controversy. Tim Thomas is having a bit of a letdown after his Vezina season last year. He's currently 18th overall in SV% while rookie Tuukka Rask is second behind Ryan Miller. The two Boston goalies have split their games fairly evenly with Rask playing in 14 games compared to Thomas' 19. I'm not sure who will be starting this game but either goalie is capable of stealing a game. Sounds like Rask may get the nod though since Thomas has dropped 3 straight and this is the first of a back-to-back for the Bruins.
For the Blackhawks though it'll be Antti Niemi in the net. Niemi looked strong against the LIghtning and with the Hawks playing 8 games in 14 days to end the year I'd imagine we'll see Niemi get a good number of starts. Although he's only played in 8 games, Niemi has the same sv% as Ryan Miller. It'll be good to see the Finn get some more starts to see just how good he can be.
Word is that Hammer has the flu (no word if it's swine or avian related though) so he's sitting out this game allowing Hendry to get more ice time in his natural position rather than as a winger. Our guess is that the defensive pairings will be:
Seabrook - Keith
Barker - Campbell
Sopel - Hendry
fourth err... third pairing isn't exactly the biggest confidence boost but Sopel has been solid lately and just got himself a fancy new +1 rating in the Tampa Bay game and Hendry will be interesting to see matched up against a skilled Boston team. Sopel's only averaging about 14 minutes a game... so there's that. The Hawks seemed to break out of their scoring slump with the 7 goals in two games. Don't expect the power play to take off the clown shoes and put on their big boy skates though - Boston has the strongest penalty kill in the league. I haven't watched many Bruins games this year but I'm guessing their kill mainly consists of Zdeno Chara standing in front of the net blotting out the sun, stadium lights and any hope of a player getting a shot off without him tearing your head off.
UPDATE: According to Mirtle and the official Blackhawks Twitter - the Hawks have recalled Bryan Bickell from Rockford. Hope his I-Pass still has money on it..
Lets Go Hawks