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GAME DAY: at Chicago

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

  Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Chicago Blackhawks
RECORDS - CBJ: 1-8-1 (Road:0-5-0), CHI: 5-2-2 (Home: 3-0-2)
WHEN: Oct. 29, 2011 - 8:30 p.m.   |   WHERE: United Center
FOX Sports Ohio (HD)  |  LISTEN: CD102.5 FM &

Expectations were at an all-time high for the Chicago Blackhawks last season following their thrilling run to the Stanley Cup championship in 2010. Former general manager Dale Tallon (now with the Florida Panthers) assembled a well-rounded club that would eventually run into salary-cap troubles, and his successor, Stan Bowman, was forced to make significant changes last season.

Several pieces were moved out, and the Blackhawks were bounced early from the playoffs by the Vancouver Canucks. The motive this summer from the Chicago front office was clearly to add veteran talent and improve the Blackhawks’ scoring depth.

The Blackhawks already boast one of the deepest and most impressive cores of players in the entire league, with captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook just a few of the names on a roster full of home-grown talent. Patrick Sharp is one of the league’s best snipers, and a seldom-mentioned trade with the Philadelphia Flyers to bring him to Chicago may be one of the more underrated deals in the past few years. Coach Joel Quenneville has put solid acquisitions by Bowman to good use and helped balance the Blackhawks’ scoring, beginning with Marian Hossa agreeing to a long-term contract two years ago.

This summer, the Blackhawks added veteran Andrew Brunette to be a presence in and around the net on the power play after he spent several successful seasons with the Minnesota Wild. Notable agitator Dan Carcillo, Rostislav Olesz (acquired from Florida in exchange for Brian Campbell) and Jamal Mayers are also first-year Blackhawks in 2011-12.

Chicago’s blue line has been a trademark for organizational success. Bowman made sure to keep Keith and Seabrook in the Windy City with new contracts and was able to retain shutdown man Niklas Hjalmarsson by matching a restricted free agent offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks. Youngster Nick Leddy, also acquired in a trade by the Blackhawks, is a skilled and fleet-footed defenseman who is a big part of Chicago’s future. Bowman complemented the offensive skill on the back end with a pair of gritty free agents in Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell.

In goal, the Blackhawks are led by 26-year-old Corey Crawford, a product of their minor league system who earned the role of No. 1 goaltender last season. Chicago had a heated race for the backup goalie job take place in training camp, but it was veteran Ray Emery – in town on a professional tryout contract – that won the spot over young Alexander Salak.

Quenneville’s offense has been heavily shouldered by his top players in the first nine games, and Hossa is tops in goal-scoring with five already. Sharp and Kane had eight points each entering last night’s game, with Kane leading the Blackhawks in assists with six.

Prospal (4) Hossa (5)
Three tied (5) Kane (6)
Prospal (9) Sharp, Kane (8)
Bass (17) Sharp (18)
MacKenzie (+3) Carcillo (+5)
Mason (1-8-1)
Crawford (4-2-2)
Mason (3.33) Crawford (2.20)
Mason (.885) Crawford (.921)
• Tonight marks the first of six meetings between the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks this season. The Central Division rivals will play tonight and again on November 10 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus; after two games in two weeks, they will not face off again until the day after Christmas. Columbus was 2-3-1 against the Blackhawks in 2010-11, including two wins at the United Center.

• The Blackhawks were shut out for the first time this season last night at RBC Center in Raleigh, falling to the Hurricanes by a 3-0 final. Crawford started in goal for Chicago, and it’s expected that Emery will be in goal tonight for the Blackhawks.

• Columbus’ mentality in its past two games has been to shoot the puck frequently, and it resulted in four goals against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. The Blue Jackets outshot their previous two opponents by a 75-57 aggregate, including 43 shots on goal against Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Four different Columbus players recorded five shots each in Buffalo.

• Ageless wonder Vinny Prospal is feeling good right now. The 36-year-old has stepped up in the absence of center Jeff Carter and leads the Blue Jackets in scoring (4-5-9). He fired four shots on goal against the Sabres and has recorded at least one point in seven of the Blue Jackets’ first 10 games.

• Sharp had quite the season series against the Blue Jackets last year, scoring seven goals and 10 total points in six meetings. He was the Blackhawks’ third-leading scorer in 2010-11 with a career-best 34-37-71 in 73 games played, and lead the team with 26 power-play points. Sharp enters tonight’s game riding a 14-game point streak against the Blue Jackets, scoring 13 goals and eight assists in that span.

Patrick Kane

C  -  #88
  2 Goals
  6 Assists
  8 Points

• Columbus hockey fans witnessed the beginning of Kane’s NHL career, as the 22-year-old was drafted No. 1 overall by the Blackhawks at the 2007 Entry Draft held at Nationwide Arena. The native of Buffalo, N.Y. has been one of Chicago’s most reliable sources of offense, scoring at least 70 points in each of his first four seasons.

• Kane has made a move to center ice this season and it’s paying dividends. He played the position as a youngster and said he feels comfortable with the switch, using his excellent vision and creativity to make plays all over the ice.

G Mark Dekanich (ankle); indefinitely
LW Kristian Huselius (pectoral); indefinitely
RW Jared Boll  (thumb); indefinitely
C Jeff Carter (foot); week-to-week
G Curtis Sanford (groin); 2 to 4 weeks
D Marc Methot (thumb); day-to-day
D Radek Martinek (concussion); indefinitely

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