Rivalry games sure are a whole lot more fun to talk about and research. The history, the grit, the imminent physicality stemming from opposing locker rooms are what make the NHL great and provide something the league is looking to brand going forward.
But, alas, the NHL has a full schedule this year, and that means games such as tonight’s pitting the Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes occur, often without much fervor, as marks on the schedule and points in the standings. However, when digging deeper, this game has plenty of potential to be a very good one, pitting some of the league’s best players against each other.
For the Blackhawks, both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are obviously off to fast starts once again, yet matching them for a .500 Carolina team are Jeff Skinner and Nathan Gerbe. Skinner is one of the most impressive young players in the league and has quickly amassed seven points and a +4 rating. Gerbe, meanwhile, is on a four game point streak and is incredibly fun to watch due to his 5-foot-5 frame.
The Blackhawks have already made the mistake of being bitten by underestimated teams, losing uncharacteristically to the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this season. Defensively, the team will look to continue its pace (allowing 2.4 goals per game) by having Corey Crawford start and putting Michal Rozsival alongside Nick Leddy to fill out the defensive pairings.
The Blackhawks are up against a rather difficult test, and if an upset were to occur it would come likely in the form of a deciding goal or stop from the power play or penalty kill unit. Carolina is a dismal 14.3 percent on the power play but is also a strong 81 percent on the penalty kill. Both teams, for their part, are among the least penalized in the league minutes wise, although Carolina has committed nine more total penalties than Chicago.
The Blackhawks are beginning to find some stability in their schedule and momentum in the locker room should begin to build sooner rather than later. A win tonight in Carolina where the team has had minimal success would certainly help the team as they face tougher teams later in the year.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486