NHL Preview: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes have been playing “fair” hockey all season long, and now that the playoffs are approaching, they’ve eased into the “poor” category.
They’ve lost three in a row, ten of their last 12 road games, and have only beaten one team in the playoff race in the last 46 days. No Coyote has more than 25 points, and goalie Mike Smith is a totally different wolf-like wild dog than he was last year when he led the team to the Western Conference finals.
As it stands, Phoenix is five points back from the eighth seed with five games to play, and so a loss tonight would pretty much bury any fading hopes they might have of reaching the postseason.
The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in exactly the same spot as they were the last time they met the desert dogs: in the midst of a 10-game points streak and in possession of the league’s best record. Their seven-game win streak is the best in hockey and they currently rank first in wins (34) and goals allowed (91), and second in goals scored (144) and home ice record (17-3-2). Oh, and they’re by far the best team on the road (17-2-2) as well.
As of this moment, the team’s magic number is just five for securing the President’s trophy, which awards them home-ice all throughout the playoffs, however so many guys are in line for individual hardware that the Trophy room at the United Center might require renovation.
Both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are in the running for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the League’s most valuable player. The word is they’ll split the vote with each other, but with Sidney Crosby missing so much of the season, they’ve got a legitimate shot.
Toews is also considered a near lock for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.
20-year-old forward Brandon Saad is a front-runner for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s most outstanding rookie player, and defenseman Duncan Keith’s name is always in the hat for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.
Finally we have the goaltending duo of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. If they can manage to hang on to the lowest goals allowed total over these last five games, they’ll win the William M. Jennings Trophy, which is awarded to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it in the regular season.
Considering their both in the top four in GAA and top eight in save percentage we might as well put them up for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s top goaltender.
Chicago finally got their power play back on track last night, capitalizing on two of three opportunities after an embarrassing nine-game drought. There’s also a slight possibility rookie goalie Carter Hutton might get the start tonight. With Emery out for another day or two and five games looming in the next eight nights, this might be a good time to give the kid a shot and get Crawford a bit of rest before the final push.
So are there any questions about the match-up tonight? The prognosis for yesterday’s game versus the Nashville Predators was equally bleak, but hey managed to push the Hawks to OT before Marian Hossa buried them 52 seconds into the extra time.
Perhaps the American jackals actually have a shot tonight…