The Chicago Blackhawks head home to the friendly confines of the United Center on Saturday night for their home opener against the Buffalo Sabres. The Madhouse on Madison should be absolutely bumping for the big game, and I think it's fair to say we're all excited for the sweet, sweet return of hockey to Chicago.
Coming off an underwhelming 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars in the season opener on Thursday, the Blackhawks are looking to rebound with a stronger performance in front of the home fans. Dallas dominated the first 40 minutes of the opener before faltering in the third period and losing in a shootout, leaving the Hawks with an almost cheap-feeling win.
Joel Quenneville and the team are clearly still trying to work some things out on the ice, and it didn't even take a full game before we started seeing the blender in action. It's unlikely that'll all be figured out by Saturday night against Buffalo, but an easier opponent should definitely boost our expectations.
The Stars were a tough matchup against the Blackhawks with their speed and variety of offensive weapons, but the Sabres don't boast nearly the same kind of talent. Buffalo projects as one of the worst teams in the league this season, and should have a hard time keeping up with the Hawks' talent.
Here are the lines Chicago was using during their morning skate:
Same lines for #Blackhawks: Sharp-Toews-Hossa, Saad-Shaw-Kane, Bickell-Richards-Smith, Carcillo-Kruger-Morin.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 11, 2014
Opponent Breakdown: Buffalo Sabres
In case you needed an idea of where this franchise sits, Buffalo's biggest newspaper's openly admitted that "A large contingent of fans wants the Sabres to tank," on the cover of its season preview. This is a team with so little optimism that a season of losing and stronger odds at landing Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel sounds better than even trying to win.
The Sabres do have a rising star in Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, but that's merely one building block for a team that needs several. Guys like Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis haven't developed into elite players, and now Buffalo sits in that unfortunate place where it's not good enough to contend but lacks the young talent for quick and effective rebuild.
Jhonas Enroth, the team's starting goaltender, looked solid in the loss to Columbus, saving 37-of-40 shots, but has never really put together a quality season. A breakout from the 26-year-old may be Buffalo's best chance of maintaining a respectable record throughout the season.
The Blackhawks will again be without Kris Versteeg (lower body) and Michal Rozsival (upper body), as the duo didn't practice Saturday morning in anticipation of the game. The Sabres, meanwhile, will be without Patrick Kaleta (face), Jake McCabe (undisclosed), Mark Pysyk (upper body) and Matt Hackett (knee). It's also unclear whether Cody McCormick will play after missing practice on Friday.
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: United Center
Radio: WGN 720-AM