The Chicago Blackhawks will travel to South Florida on Tuesday to play the first game of a short two-game road trip against the Florida Panthers. There were questions as to who would be in net, but it appears Corey Crawford will play in his eighth game of the year, allowing Nikolai Khabibulin to play in his second Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Crawford, for his part, has had a solid start to the season, but has not played up to the new standard that comes with being a Stanley Cup Champion. Crawford has only allowed 2.07 goals per game, good enough for a .922 save percentage. Simply put, Crawford has been middle of the pack, but is aided by only having to face 27.57 shots per game.
The Panthers have had a poor start, allowing 288 shots on the season and struggling immensely against puck position teams. Goaltender Tim Thomas has the best save percentage of the three goalies which have started this year with a meager .901. Things will not get better for Thomas as coach Joel Quenneville has revamped the lines once again, promoting Brandon Saad to the top line. Saad has had an impressive start to the season, leading the team in points.
The onslaught will not end there, however, as Patrick Kane has been relegated to the second line to provide balance alongside Patrick Sharp despite leading the team with four goals. The second line will presumably also see a lot of Niklas Hjalmarsson on the defensive end as he leads the team with five assists.
Bryan Bickell’s slow start has been unfortunate, and it will be interesting to see how he works together on the third line with Marcus Kruger at center. On the fourth line as well are the now-solidified Brandon Pirri and Ben Smith. There are some untested combinations and some old pairings reunited with the Blackhawks’ latest line changes, and this two-game test run will certainly determine the lines going forward.
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