Tonight's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Atlanta Thrashers may not be a match-up of two of the league's best teams but there's a lot of sentimental value in it. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, and Brent Sopel all received rings and their names were engraved on the Stanley Cup for their part in the Blackhawks run that saw them capture their first championship in 50 years. The Blackhawks were forced to rework their roster this past offseason and subsequently traded those four to Atlanta to relieve their financial situation.
[caption id="attachment_167" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Patrick Sharp Leads the Blackhawks in Goals this Season"][/caption]
The Blackhawks (7-7-1) haven't really had the start they had hoped for to defend their Stanley Cup title as they currently sit in 7th place in the Western Conference and fourth in the Central Division, although a win can get them in a tie for first with the Detroit Red Wings if all goes well. The resurgence of Patrick Sharp, 10 g - 6 a - 16 pts, has helped the Blackhawks offensively and has carried the brunt of the offense. The usual suspects round out the Blackhawks top 5 in scoring as Patrick Kane is second in points with 4 g - 8 a - 12 pts, Duncan Keith has 1 g - 11 - a - 12 pts, Marian Hossa has 7 g - 4 a - 11 pts, and Jonathan Toews has 3 g - 7 a - 10 pts, although the Blackhawks are still without star Marian Hossa,Jeremy Morin is expected to play in his absence. With all of the departures from last season from the Blackhawks roster, no position is feeling the loss as much as their goaltending. Marty Turco has been mediocre at best in his hideous red pads through his first 11 games this season, posting a 6-4-1 record, a .913 sv % and a 2.70 gaa. The Hawks look to turn things around after losing their last two games to the middle-of-the-road Rangers 3-2 and the underperforming Devils 5-3. Perhaps the most frightening stat for the Blackhawks is that out of their top 5 scorers, three of them are a minus (including a team worst -10 for Patrick Sharp) and Hossa, leading the team in +/- with a +4, is not in the lineup. Defense will be a key tonight for a Blackhawks victory, it's been shaky at best in their past two losses.
Dustin Byfuglien is picking up where he left off in the playoffs last year, leading the Thrashers in points with 5 g 7 a and 12 pts. Another former Hawk, Andrew Ladd is tied with Byfuglien with 4 - 8 - 12. The other story on offense of the Thrashers is the emergence of another Kane, Evander. Through 13 games this season Kane has 6 goals and 8 points. The Thrashers sit
[caption id="attachment_168" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Can Evander Kane lift his Thrashers over the defending Cup Champions? "][/caption]
at 7th place in the Eastern Conference with a 6-5-2 record mainly behind backup goalie Chris Mason, who replaced Ondrej Pavelec for a while as number 1 as Pavelec recovered from a scary fainting spell in the teams season opener against the Capitals. The Thrashers are getting contributions from everyone so far this year, getting at least one point from all but three players (Noah Welch with 2 GP, Freddy Meyer with 5 GP, and Nigel Dawes with 6 GP) and that depth has been the key factor in them winning games this year. With the Panthers and Hurricanes back in action tonight, a Thrashers win can give them a little more separation in the Southeast Division standings from those two, as well as get them within sight of the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
All in all, this should be a pretty emotional game for the four Thrashers that played in Chicago last season as they get to face their former teammates for the first and only time this season. Expect a high scoring affair as both team's offense rank in the top 12 for goals for per game and bottom nine in goals against per game. I would say home ice catapults the Thrashers to a difficult 5-4 win tonight, with Evander Kane being the game's top star.