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Blackhawks Thu Dec 31 2009

Hawks look to not drop ball against East's best

As Chicagoans fan out across the city to ring in the new year tonight, the Blackhawks close out 2009 against the New Jersey Devils in what could be a look ahead to a bigger rematch in 2010. It's also the first time long-time Devil John Madden will face his former team after joining the Hawks as a free agent this summer.

The Devils enter the contest as the top team in the Eastern Conference, on the tail end of a back-to-back after shutting out last year's Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins. While the two teams also meet during the last week of the season in April, tonight's game could also be a preview of a possible Cup final, as the Hawks sit two points away from the top seed in the West and have proven to be one of the league's elite squads. The matchup also pits two teams with different styles, but similar stats: New Jersy is a league best 13-3-1 on the road, while the Hawks are 17-4-1 at home, also tops in the NHL; they are 1st (Hawks at 2.08) and 2nd (2.10 for New Jersey) in goals against per game; and both in the top 10 in offense.

While the Devils have a number of young snipers like Zach Parise and Patrick Elias, their game is built around their defensive system and future Hall-of-fame goalie Martin Brodeur. The Blackhawks meanwhile, use their speed and skill to keep control of the puck and put constant pressure into the offensive zone, a system that has limited opponents to less than 25 shots a game, best in the NHL. Oftentimes, Chicago doesn't beat teams, they simply overwhelm them, but the Devils are one of the more patient teams, waiting for turnovers and offensive chances while limiting penalties (New Jersey leads the NHL in fewest penalty minutes).

Chicago enters their final game of 2009 coming off a rare loss Tuesday in Dallas, but a pair of victories over Nashville last weekend has given the team a 6-point cushion in the Central division race. The Hawks have been lead by their star duo, as Patrick Kane enters the game on a 5-game goal scoring streak, and captain Jonathon Toews has 8 points in his last 4 games. Defenseman Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell are on 7- and 4-game points streaks, respectively.

In other news, Toews, Keith and defenseman Brent Seabrook were named to the Canadian Olympic team yesterday, joining teammates Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky, who will represent Slovakia in Vacounver in February. The U.S. team will be announced New Year's Day, with Kane a lock and forward Dustin Byfuglien a possible roster choice as well. Although most NHL teams will send a few players to Vancouver, the high number of Hawks participating has some wondering how that will affect their Stanley Cup chances come spring. Second City Hockey breaks down the stats and provides a sigh of relief in a compelling post. I'll just simply also extend congratulations and good luck to the Hawks who will represent their countries.

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