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Blackhawks Tue Oct 22 2013

Blackhaws Looking for More Sunshine on Panhandle Trip

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png For the first time this season, the Blackhawks will play back-to-back games on the road after running through six of their first eight at home (5-1-2). This trip involves heading south in the newly-formed Atlantic division to face both the Florida Panthers tonight and Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday.

The Blackhawks already faced the Lightning a few weeks ago in a 3-2 shootout loss at home, but haven't seen the Panthers since a 3-1 January 20, 2012 win at home. With last year's lockout, each NHL team stayed within its respective conference for games played, which now makes it seem like more than a decade ago since last visiting our friends from the south. And much like the last time around, the Blackhawks should continue its dominant play.

The Panthers were the worst team in the league last season, posting a 15-27-6 record out of the 48 games played, and they look to stay just as consistent this season. Brad Boyes leads the team in goals with four while former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg is second on the team in shots with 24. Another former Blackhawk Brian Campbell is tied with his team in plus/minus at a plus-1, which is not something you'd want to brag about for your team.

Needless to say, coach Joel Quenneville simply will need to make sure his team makes it onto the ice without getting hit by the bus to get through this one. Goalies Jacob Markstrom and Tim Thomas have split time between the pipes and both have given up a combined 31 goals in 11 games for a robust 2.82 GAA. With the Blackhawks owning the eighth-best five-on-five goals-for versus goals-against (1.50) they should take advantage and feast on whomever head coach Kevin Dineen plays at goal.

The Lightning pose a bigger challenge for the Blackhawks, as was proven in the aforementioned game. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos lead the eighth-ranked scoring offense in the NHL with 10 points each and scoring four and five goals respectively. St. Louis won the Art Ross Trophy last season for scoring the most points in the league with 60. By the way, Stamkos finished only THREE points behind St. Louis for that crown, so that should tip off how good these two are.

Odds are Crawford gets the start tonight with Khabibulin going Thursday in Tampa, which might provide a lot of fireworks in the scoring column. This will be the first game without Joakim Nordstrom after being sent to Rockford. Nordstrom's slot on the fourth line probably will be filled by Sheldon Brookbank with Brandon Pirri at center and Brandon Bollig on the other wing.

You never want to look past any opponent, even the Panthers, but tonight's game might give Quenneville the luxury to experiment with different line looks before heading to Tampa and through the rest of the schedule. Maybe Pirri finally gets the call to second line center while the slower Michal Handzuš anchors the fourth line. Either way, the Blackhawks would do just fine heading back north with at least three points in their back pocket.

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