Oct 8, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; Players celebrate a goal by New York Islanders right wingColin McDonald
(13) during the second period of a game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Blackhawks enter tonight’s contest sitting 4th in the Central Division, having only earned 3 points in their first 3 match-ups of the season; the New York Islanders, on the other hand, have fared a bit better, acquiring 5 of 6, and sitting ‘securely’ in 2nd place amid the Metropolitan standings.
But this rather small sample size of games and point disparity belies the possibilities to unravel tonight at Chicago’s United Center. Although the Islanders have the better record, and according to paper, the ‘better’ offensive player points-wise (6/Michael Grabner), the New York Islanders have more than their work cut out for them.
Euphemisms notwithstanding, this emerging, young, and somewhat erratic New York hockey club, stands a better chance at handing Pittsburgh a home loss, than these efficient and immensely talented Blackhawks.
Chicago’s Wednesday night “Rivalry Matchup” against the St. Louis Blues showcased none other than two elite NHL squads, and the playoff pace demonstrated throughout the evening proved that chemistry is a dangerous commodity in the hands of a focused and equally overly-talented squad.
St. Louis would outshoot the ‘Hawks 34 to 28, with 8 takeaways to Chicago’s 4, but the real storyline came from the play of both netminders.
The Blues 3-2 victory came on the heels and shoulders and back of one Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 32 of 34 shots, and one key save coming in the 2nd period against a Patrick Sharp breakaway that kept the contest tied.
Corey Crawford proved resilient throughout, as well, and aside from giving up the final Blues notch to a blistering Alexander Steen slap-shot that came about with just seconds remaining in the game, the Blackhawks netminder is showing the same brilliance that helped his team capture last year’s Lord Stanley.
The New York Islanders should take heed to the dynamic informing the Chicago forecheck, which can be too aggressive for it’s own good at times, while capitalizing on a somewhat lacking (but nevertheless threatening) PK unit.
Most important factor for the Isles to remember is that the Blackhawks play deliberate hockey, regardless of the situation.
The aim for Chicago is to always suffocate their opponent deep within the offensive zone. And sometimes it works, as the Boston Bruins can attest to this past Stanley Cup series, and other times it doesn’t, which the Blues can testify.
Not to suggest that Islander hockey should be any less proactive than it has been thus far, but unlike their games against Phoenix and New Jersey, the Isles must play the most calculated and disciplined form of hockey this year.
Wednesday night, the ‘Hawks found themselves in a playoff game in October; their first test of this young season and they didn’t pass. The Islanders will need to be much more responsible coming out of their own zone, and establish a neutral zone identity that has been altogether lacking.
Moreover, the Isles PP quarterback has yet to take the stage, and if there was one element to the STL-CHI matchup that stood out, aside from the excellent goaltending, was each club’s respective special teams. Chicago has a much better PP than PK, as was the case last year.
If you’re the New York Islanders, you don’t want to give an inch more of ice to the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane than need be, both of whom scored on the PP against the Blues. And like St. Louis, the Isles need to take advantage of open space on the ice when afforded them, and likewise suffocate Chicago as quickly and as proficiently as possible.
In short, the Isles need to stay out of the box, have their PP quarterback emerge from the background and take the reins, and protect, at all costs, all the space in front of Evgeni Nabokov.
If Islander country is interested in measuring the talent levels of their team, tomorrow would be a great place to start.
EOI had a chance to ask our friends over at Blackhawk Up, another one of comrades-at-arms here at Fansided, about their thoughts and views regarding tonight’s matchup at the United Center. Here’s what Editor Keith Schultz had to say:
What are expectations for this team coming into the 2013-14 season?
"The expectations for the season are to win the newly realigned Central Division, and become the first team to win back to back Stanley Cups since the Red Wings in the late 90’s"
In one sentence describe for us the banner raising ceremony.
"The banner raising ceremony was Awesome and I would suggest that any Hawks fan has watched it multiple times."
Scott Powers from ESPNChicago.com wrote a piece this past Monday citing the noticeable improvement to the Blackhawks power play, thus far. Do you agree with his assessment? Is it too early to even broach such a ‘sensitive’ topic? And what exactly should Joel Quenneville do to continue improving upon this aspect of Blackhawk special teams?
"It’s entirely too early to say there is improvement on the one major weakness that the Hawks have had the last few years. I would like to see more Nick Leddy on the point and continued progress on getting bodies and pucks to the front of the net. The major problem is entering the zone and when they win faceoffs and control the zone they are effective, but it’s been failing to enter the zone that has been the biggest problem."
Take us through the Tampa Bay Lightning OT/SHO loss. What do you believe went wrong that night aside from the obvious? What do the Blackhawks do to avoid this in the future?
"The Blackhawks were almost lulled to sleep a la Nashville Predators, and after being in complete control lost it all in 1:43. The actual reason for the loss was Ben Bishop, who stopped 4 tremendous chances by Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane to keep the game at 2-0."
Considering all the changes the New York Islanders have undergone since the last meeting, and what you witnessed against St. Louis, what adjustments do you foresee coach Quenneville making by Friday evening?
"The Blackhawks have to make an adjustment on the penalty kill. They have given up at least one goal when down a man in every game so far.If you throw out the last minute [of the Blues game,] the ‘Hawks’ effort was great[.] [A]nd if they play like that a lot of wins will follow. The biggest thing the Hawks could exploit [regarding the Islanders] is the strong third line the Hawks throw out every night The Shaw line has been playing great since day one"
Catch our pre-game report later on today!