predators at blackhawks
The facts: 7:30, CSN, 720-AM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
As trying as things have been without Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa in the lineup, the Blackhawks have proved with consecutive victories against quality opponents that they can carry on.
They’re not playing a flashy game by any means, but their tight defensive style has been effective and even productive offensively. So there is no reason to rush the two star wingers back from their injuries — and the Hawks won’t.
Coach Joel Quenneville ruled out Kane (ankle) and Hossa (lower) until after Christmas. Hossa endured another grueling skate Tuesday, while Kane was kept off the ice for the third day in a row after tweaking his injury Saturday in practice.
Sometimes injuries can have a rallying effect on a team, as other players step up their games. The Hawks have a 3-2-1 record with Hossa and Kane both out of the lineup.
A victory tonight against the Nashville Predators, who have beaten the Hawks in their two meetings this season, would be a real sign that they’ve shaken off those two ugly losses to the Colorado Avalanche. Quenneville said he thought the Hawks have changed since they last played the Predators.
“We’ve improved, and we’ve had a stretch here where all of a sudden we feel better,” Quenneville said. “Winning two in a row certainly helps at home. We’d like to go into this [Christmas] break with some confidence and enjoying a couple days off. It’s an important game for everybody.”
The improved play of wingers Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille and Troy Brouwer and the entire Hawks blue line has stood out recently, especially in their victories against the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings.
Better play from Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson was anticipated. But Bickell, Skille and Brouwer needed to become consistent contributors if the Hawks were going to succeed not just now, but the rest of the season.
All three appear to be playing some of their best hockey as of late.
“Hopefully we can get this team going into Christmas and even after Christmas, too,” said Bickell, who has five goals and three assists in his last seven games.
Viktor Stalberg, who’ll play for the first time since being boarded by the Avalanche’s Ryan O’Byrne last Wednesday, said he has seen the difference in the Hawks’ game.
“We’re just taking better care in our own end,” Stalberg said. “We’re making sure we’re limiting their Grade A scoring chances. If we can do that, our goalies are really good, and they can make some big stops for us.
“If we can limit those chances, we know we have enough talent up front to score a lot of goals. We just have to keep doing that, and we’re going to win a lot of these games.”