This year’s NHL season, thanks to an Olympic break and last year’s lockout shortened schedule, appears to be longer than ever, with first-half heavy teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks reaching 41 games at the end of this week.
Certainly circled on the schedule are consecutive games at home against the Colorado Avalanche and on the road against the St. Louis Blues. Those games will occur Friday and Saturday after the NHL’s mandated holiday break, and will be yet another measuring stick type of game. Both teams are in the central division, and both have three games on the Blackhawks in hand.
However, the task facing the Blackhawks now is the deceptive New Jersey Devils, who despite being 24th in goals scored per game, have ripped off five goal performances twice in their past four games. A large part of the Devils’ push towards .500 has been first line wing Jaromir Jagr, who leads the team in scoring with 33 points.
The Devils’ first line, however, will be up against an incredibly difficult matchup, as the Blackhawks’ top line of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp continues to perform at an incredible level. Combined, those forwards have totaled 43 goals, and thanks to the defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook behind them, the Blackhawks top line averages a +/- of 13.2.
The top line also will see plenty of time on the power play, one of the best aspects of the Blackhawks that was kept off the score sheet during their overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks. While Vancouver’s penalty kill is the best in the league, New Jersey’s is a surprising 5th, meaning the Blackhawks have an excellent opportunity to make adjustments and see if they work right away against an underrated New Jersey Devils team.
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