WHERE: United Center, Chicago, Illinois
WHEN: 7 PM EST
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
Friday night witnessed the Lightning come out, guns blazing, and then run out of gas for the third period, giving up their slim lead and then losing in the shootout. Ample blame can be given to altitude adjustment or the lack-there-off for the team...
...But the better questionis, how will they play now that they are much closer to sea-level? Will they regress back into a no-effort group that doesn't put forth an effort until the third? Or could they possibly play 60 minutes in a contest against one of the Western Conference leaders?
At 18-10-6, the Blackhawks are not just one of the top teams in the west, but one of the top teams in the entire league. 41 points in 34 games... That's as formidable as they come.
The 'Hawks are coming off a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Sabres, ... And it would almost look like the 'Hawks are going through a rough patch with scoring (that sounds so familiar, who does it remind you of?). Sam from Second City Hockey described the phase in his recap of the Buffalo game:
It's obviously a phase, as the Hawks can't keep throwing 40 shots at the net per game and keep coming out with one or two goals. At the same time, you can't ignore that the Hawks haven't put up more than 3 goals in a game since administering Catherine The Great's Death to the Sharks in San Jose. The last thing anyone expected this team to struggle with was scoring. It's hardly panic time about it, barely worry time. You get the feeling some poor team is really going to pay when the Hawks bust out of it.
That 40-shot thing isn't much of an embellishment: They're taking 32.5 shots on average a night while limiting opponents to just over 24. Knowing how the Bolts can do the Jekyll-and-Hyde thing with efforts, I would not put it out of the question for the Lightning to be the victims of a Chicago offensive reinvigoration. With the Bolts struggling to clear the zone and prevent shots, expecting whomever starts in net to face a shooting gallery is likely.
Chicago boasts the 9th rated power play unit in the league with a 20.8 percent scoring rate, while their penalty kill is a formidable 84.5%. Patrick "Twenty Cent" Kane leads the Blackhawks in scoring with 29 points, but the offensive attack is well rounded for the 'Hawks -- while no one has broken the double-digit goal plateau yet this season (...yet), four players on the team have nine (Kane, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp).
There have been no formal announcements of who starts and who sites tonight, I am guessing we'll see the same lineup from Friday's game in Denver but with Mike Smith starting instead of Niittymaki. We'll see by game time.
[Note by John Fontana, 12/13/09 4:26 PM EST ] Niittymaki gets the start in net.
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
(updated December 13, 2009 by RawCharge subject to change)