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Tue Nov 30 2010

Hawks return home, Hossa hurt again

Well, that should feel a bit better. Following a Thanksgiving eve 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks and Antti Niemi, the Hawks swept the Southern California twosome and return from the West with a 4-2 circus trip record. Now, as the clowns have left the UC for another year, the Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues tonight at the Madhouse, where the team will play 10 of their next 13 in a home-heavy December schedule.

Following that abomination of a game in Calgary and the destruction of the Nucks in Vancouver, the 3-game California swing figured to provide some answers regarding the Blackhawks. While it did, as even in the Sharks loss the team looked much more cohesive as a team, it also instilled a new question. Corey Crawford tended net for the 3 of the 4 road wins, including the final two in Anaheim and Los Angeles in back to back nights, and coach Joel Quenneville is riding the hot hand and giving Crawford the start tonight as well. It's a little early to call it a full-blown controversy, but Crawford's played exceptionally strong of late, and has been helped by the team's defense rounding into shape and playing a stronger puck possession game. Goalie Marty Turco hasn't been horrible by any stretch, but his 2.90 goals against and .904 save percentage pale to Crawford's 2.07 and .925, and his past two starts were the low points of the road trip. Given the tightness of the Western Conference standings (only 10 points separate the top team from the 14th place team), points are at a premium, and December's schedule gives the Hawks a chance to pad their total with whoever is playing the best right now. At this point, it's hard to not give Crawford a shot.

The other big news entering tonight's game actually happened once the team returned to Chicago. Forward Marian Hossa was hurt in a collision with Nick Boynton in practice yesterday, and the word as of the morning skate is he's expected to be out 2-3 weeks with a lower body injury. It's yet another bad luck injury for Hossa, and though he's struggled since returning Nov. 7 from an unrelated injury, the Hawks are a better team with him on the ice. If there is a silver lining, it's that Chicago is calling up Jeremy Morin to take his place in tonight's game. Morin was one of the biggest surprises in training camp, and though he played in a pair of games before Hossa's return earlier this month, this call-up will give him a greater shot to prove he belongs on the big club. If he does, he can provide a scoring weapon and stickhandling skills that's been lacking from the team's lower lines.

The Blackhawks sit only 1 point ahead of the Blues in the standings, and if the first two games of this series have shown anything, it's that tonight's contest should be a tight, intense affair. St. Louis has been hit hard by injuries, as defenseman Roman Polak and forwards T.J. Oshie and David Perron will all be off the ice tonight. A win tonight builds on the Hawks momentum and can be a jump start to turning around the team's 5-7 home record.

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