Game Day Preview: Hawks vs. Panthers. Everybody’s Got A Hunger


GAME DAY SONG: Prove It All Night, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

When the schedule for this season came out, the only game that was on my must see list besides opening night was this one.  As a native Chicagoan this is my game of the year here in South Florida, and yet I wish it wasn’t so early into the season.  Mostly because the Florida Panthers are still trying to locate their identity, while the Chicago Blackhawks know exactly what there’s is.

In hopes of seeing a match that isn’t one sided, the Florida Panthers may be able to build on Saturday night’s shootout win against the Minnesota Wild.  The difference between a record of 3-6-0 is certainly better than 2-7-0, which would have included a four game losing streak to boot.  Saturday’s game featured a number of different line combinations, and a number of different players who saw their ice time reduced.  Forwards like Brad Boyes and Scott Gomez both saw limited action in the final period, as did defenceman Erik Gudbranson who seemed to struggle with his decisions.  Head coach Kevin Dineen is starting to make players more accountable by limiting their ice time, and it’s ab out time.  This comment after Saturday’s game accurately describes his sentiment:

“It’s a tale of two cities with our team,” Dineen said. “I talked before the season about accountability before the season and guys who weren’t playing well didn’t see much ice in the third. I think that it’s starting to take affect, knowing this is a performance-based business. Do your job, you’ll be OK.”

In the middle of a six game homestand, things don’t get easier or simpler tonight with the fast and high-powered offence of the defending Stanley Cup champions in town.  Florida who should be rested after taking Sunday off, will need to be at their very best tonight in what will be another in a long line of tests this early in the season.  While the pace of Saturday night’s game was fit for watching paint dry, this one has the potential to be over early if Florida isn’t ready.

The Panthers who have proved that when they play a full 60 minutes, they can be a competitive team giving themselves a chance to win.  The key is playing smart, giving full effort, and creating scoring chances, while limiting turnovers, odd man rushes and taking ill-advised penalties.  One would argue that’s the recipe that every team hopes for, however the Panthers are still learning that in order to be consistent, those are the things they have to do on a regular basis.

If the Panthers decide to match their speed with the Hawks, the contest will be over soon, unless the boys from the Windy City are suffering from heat stroke or sunburn.  The best way for Florida to beat the Hawks, or at least keep the contest close is to (dare I say) slow things down.  Finishing checks, clogging up the neutral zone, and limiting shots on goal is the best method to stay in this game.  The Panthers have speed, but they won’t match the speed, and quickness of the Blackhawks, who also are extremely adept at getting out of their zone quickly and efficiently.  While I’m not an expert, I’ve certainly watched enough Blackhawks games to know that frustrating them is the best way to beat them.  The question will be can the Panthers accomplish that, and if so, can they do it successfully for 60 minutes.

The Blackhawks feature one of the best core units of players in the game today.  Captain Jonathan Toews is undoubtedly one of the best two-way players in the NHL, and often puts the team on his back.  His support comes from players like Marian Hossa, who is another solid two-way player that’s strong on the puck, Patrick Sharp, a player that besides being good-looking, has one of the most accurate one timers in the game, and is a goal scorer who is due to go on a hot streak.  Of course you’re all familiar with Patrick Kane.  Kane is a gifted player who has speed, can dazzle you with his moves, and has a habit of scoring goals in bunches, as well as in the clutch.  Should this game go to a shootout, the Hawks will present a stern challenge to Florida, and these four players are among the best in the game.

There’s speed and quick puck movement throughout this lineup, including the defence, which features a core that any team would be jealous of.  Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are usually inseparable, but head coach Joel Quenneville at times breaks them up to help them regain their focus.  Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarssen and Nick Leddy all are good at moving the puck, and Hjalmarssen is their best shot blocker.  Leddy is only 22 and his ceiling hasn’t been reached yet.  His ability to move the puck and join the rush lessens the loss of trading Brian Campbell to the Panthers more and more.  Making smart decisions is still something the youngster is learning, and yet his development improves with more responsibility.

One of the traits of Chicago is their ability to score in bunches as was evidenced in their 3-1 victory over Toronto Saturday night, which saw them score three goals in the second period.  Sometimes it’s as if they’re waiting for a moment in the game where the opposition has relaxed, or become complacent, and before you know it…..boom you’re trailing.  The one area this season that hasn’t been entirely evident is the ability to finish teams off.  The Hawks have one regulation loss and two in overtime.  All three were due to leads that were lost in the later part of the games.  Something that rarely happened last season.  If my memory is right, I believe I read that the Hawks have only trailed in games this season by a combined total of just under six minutes.

Rookie Brandon Pirri scored in his second straight game, and also has an assist in the three games he’s played since being called up from Rockford in the AHL.  In seven previous games covering three years overall, Pirri was held scoreless, so he’s trying to make the most of his opportunity:

“The puck’s just finding my stick right now, so it’s a lot of fun,” Pirri said. “I’m just trying to do the little things right.”

Corey Crawford is the number one netminder and he’s backed up by former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Crawford who was signed to a six year deal over the summer will carry the load for Chicago this season, has played in seven of the teams eight games, and will get the call tonight facing Tim Thomas.  Khabibulin has appeared in one game, which was a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders back on Friday October 11th, and is due for some action.  With seven games in the next 14 days, look for his role to become slightly more prominent.

The Hawks and Panthers haven’t played each other since January 2012.  The Hawks have won the last three contests outscoring Florida 10-3.

In closing today’s preview, my hope is that tonight’s game will be an entertaining one.  With all the speed and skill on Chicago, the Panthers hopefully can use that to motivate them to rise to the occasion.  If the Panthers are going to get better, this is a game where they’ll need to prove it.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

Follow the Panther Parkway crew on Twitter: Frank Rekas @FrankRekas, David Lasseter @davidlasseter , Paige Lewis @PaigeLewisFL, Jameson Cooper @JamesonCoop, and Amanda Land @HockeyGirl2530.  Also, please join our FaceBook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and tell us what’s on your mind.

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