I'll Be Your Mirror: Blackhawks @ Panthers - Preview/Pre-Game Thread/Fraternity Hazing
Game Time: 6:30 PM
Sunburned Hockey Fans: Litter Box Cats
It doesn't take much for Joel Quenneville to change things around, does it? If the first period wasn't great - jumble the lines. If you're down a goal late in a game - jumble the lines. If you've managed to get points in 9 of your first 11 games of the season and sit atop your division and the conference - jumble your lines. Umm...
While I'm not sold on the idea of moving Stalberg up to the top line, it's hard to argue that his play lately has earned him the right to at least test some top 6 minutes. Now we get to see if he's really putting things together or if his speed is still just catching some teams off guard. Stals move to the top has ripple effects on the rest of the line up as well. Toews' spot is obviously secure meaning either Sharp or Brunette has to go. There can't be an even swap as neither of those players would or should play on the 4th line. Sharp needs someone to feed him the puck and Brunette's style of controlling the puck down low or working in close to the net isn't something Kruger and Mayers aren't completely suited for. Q's solution is to move Sharp down to the line with Hossa and Kane and allow Stals to play along side Toews and Brunette. After watching Kane leave everyone in pieces on Monday, it's hard to split up the 10-88-81 line anyway.
So the big loser of the night ends up being the newly returned Car Bomb. He's been a pleasant surprise on the second line creating space and time for Hossa and Kane while even managing to chip in a few points with decent passes but if you had to move anyone in the top 6, he's the obvious candidate. So to the bottom line he goes to cry havoc along with Mayers and Kruger in a much more typical fourth line.
At least we know Q won't hesitate to drop Stalberg back to the bottom if things don't work out... it's not like he hasn't been in Q's doghouse before.
As for the Panthers - they've gladly stepped in to become this year's Blackhawks South with the Thrashers move to the Peg. With plenty of room to spare in the salary cap department - Tallon didn't hesitate to bring in his pet projects with the likes of Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg. They all joined Jack Skille as former Hawks now playing in Florida. It should be mentioned that Skille almost fought Dustin Byfuglien the other night before eventually dropping them with Andrew Ladd (The coward won the fight, if you're keeping track).
All these former Hawks have been solid additions to the Panthers line up as they trail a hot Capitals team by only three points in the division. It could be a good setting for a special teams battle tonight as the Panthers have the 5th best Power Play while the Hawks Penalty Kill remains solid at 91.7%, good enough for 3rd overall. The struggling but still somehow promising power play teams for the Hawks could hopefully find some luck against the Cats PK squad. The Panthers are 25th overall when down a man. They've given up 5 power play goals in their last 5 games.
Whatever the Hawks do - it'll have to be without Duncan Keith who is still listed as "day-to-day" but definitely out for tonight's tilt. His absence (hopefully) means we see both Lepisto and O'Donnell on the blue line and Carcillo's return means Scott watches the game from the Press Box once more. While the Panthers are obviously rebuilding they're much improved from the squad last year. That doesn't mean they have the depth the Hawks currently do. The Hawks haven't been nearly as good on the road as they are at home this year but tonight could see those fortunes start to swing with a consistent effort. The idea of so many players for the Panthers wanting to beat their former teammates should add a bit of extra fun to tonight's game though.
Let's Go Hawks