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Blackhawks Wed Dec 22 2010

Divisional Foes Continue For Ailing Hawks

Thumbnail image for blackhawks.gifThe Blackhawks celebrate Christmas with a stocking giveaway ahead of tonight's game against the Nashville Predators, but some of the gifts the Hawks are hoping to find under the tree will be delayed beyond the weekend. Although Viktor Stalberg is expected back tonight, forward Marian Hossa won't return until after Christmas. Patrick Kane has had some setbacks to his ankle while skating and will have the holiday break to rest as well, but is also aiming to return next week.

Of course, while missing your stars is tough, if the Hawks continue to play the sound defense they showed in beating the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 Friday and the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 Sunday, they can survive a few more days.

Chicago took only one penalty in the two weekend contests, saw a marked increase of sticks and bodies in shooting lanes and had the positioning to clear out any rebounds. The line of Dave Bolland, Fernando Pisani and Bryan Bickell continued to come together, shutting down their top line opponents while chipping in to help carry the offensive load. Bickell is on a four-game point streak, as is Jonathon Toews, who's carried the team with four goals and six assists since Kane went down.

Nashville comes to town on a bit of a hot streak, going 8-1-1 in their last 10, but that loss was a glaring 6-1 home defeat to the Kings last Saturday. The Predators have had the Hawks' number after last season's grueling first-round playoff battle, winning both meetings so far this season. Nashville has some good news of their own entering the contest, as they'll have starting goalie Pekka Rinne back in net after a left knee injury Dec. 1. Nashville doesn't play an exciting style of hockey, looking to use their forecheck and mobile defense to grind opponents down and capitalize on mistakes, something the Hawks have done effectively these past few games as well.

With only 1 point separating the two teams in the standings, it's not lost on either squad how valued a win would be. In fact, the Western Conference standings are still a tight race, with only five points separating third from 12th.

A Blackhawks win tonight would jump them past Nashville and from ninth to sixth, but a win is more important than the resulting position due to a scheduling quirk. Because of their heavy early season load, Chicago has played more games (35) than any team in the conference other than Anaheim (38). Since every other team has a few games to close up that margin, moving up to sixth is less important than a win over a divisional foe.

This doesn't mean the Hawks are necessarily in trouble, but it does give them a little less margin of error. With Central Division opponents Columbus (Sunday) and St. Louis (Tuesday) and perennial contender San Jose (Thursday) on tap to close out the month, a nice run to finish 2010 would go a long way come April.

 
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