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Savard setting goals low for Blackhawks' defense

by Dan Rosen
The number sticks out like a sore thumb for the Chicago Blackhawks circa 2007-08. We're talking about 231, the number of goals the Blackhawks gave up last season.

"That's something we have stressed this year, lowering our goals against," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith told "That will help our chances of making the playoffs."

Keith agreed that if the Blackhawks allowed anywhere from 20-30 fewer goals last season, they would have made the playoffs. Chicago coach Denis Savard told reporters earlier this week that he would like to see them allow less than 200 goals this season, something only five teams did last season.

The Blackhawks may just have the defense and goaltending to do it.

Super puck-mover Brian Campbell started the season Friday night at Madison Square Garden paired with Keith, an All-Star speedster. That combination not only will get the puck out of the Hawks' zone fast, it could provide some instant offense.

"When you're playing with great a defense it just creates more offense for your offensive players," Hawks second-year wing Patrick Kane told

With Campbell as his partner, Keith, who was a plus-30 while playing 30 minutes a game last season, should be able to focus more on defending the Blackhawks' blue line rather than worrying about rushing the puck through the attacking zone.

"He likes to carry the puck up the ice and skate with the puck, so my job is a little easier, just to play defense," Keith said. "He's out there hounding the puck. My job is to move the puck up to the forwards and join the rush when there is an opportunity."

The second pairing in the Hawks' opener against the New York Rangers had stable, stay-at-homer Brent Seabrook, who is in his fourth NHL season, paired with rookie Niklas Hjalmarsson, a 21-year-old Swede.

Both are reliable. Both can move the puck. And both can provide some offense. Seabrook had 32 points and was a plus-13 last season. Hjalmarsson, who had an assist in 13 games with the Hawks last season, also had 13 points in 47 games with Rockford of the AHL.

The third pair had Brent Sopel, who at 31 is the elder statesman of the group, and 24-year-old Jordan Hendry playing together. James Wisniewski likely fits somewhere in the top four or five, but he won't be back from his knee surgery until December. Matt Walker, a healthy scratch Friday night, is another gritty blue-liner.

"We've got a little bit of everything," Keith said. "We have speed. We have skill. We have size and toughness and youth. There aren't too many old guys. As a defense corps, we're excited and ready to get going."

Rookie Report - Each week in the Central Division Notes we'll have a roundup of how the rookies within the division are doing. This week, since there were so few games played, it's a roundup of which rookies made the opening night rosters.

By the way, the NHL defines a rookie as a player who has not played in more than 25 games in any single preceding season or in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons. He also has to be 25 or younger.

Chicago -- Jack Skille, Kris Versteeg, Colin Fraser, Niklas Hjalmarsson

Skille and Versteeg started the season as the wings on the third line with Dave Bolland in the middle. Skille, who played 16 games last season, was the seventh pick in 2005. Versteeg was Boston's fifth-round pick in 2004 and played in 13 games last season.
Fraser played in five games last season and one the year before.

Hjalmarsson, a fourth-round pick in 2005, was one of the last defensemen to make the team.

Columbus -- Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett

Voracek and Brassard started the season playing with veteran Jason Chimera on what the Blue Jackets hope is their second line. Voracek, the seventh pick in 2007, was the right wing. Brassard, the sixth pick in 2006, was the center.

Dorsett found himself on the opening night roster because the Jackets had to put Manny Malhotra on the injured reserve with a lower body injury.

-- no rookies on opening night roster

Top prospects Ville Leino, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson are starting the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL.

Nashville -- Patric Hornqvist, Ryan Jones

Both forwards benefited from Alexander Radulov's departure to Russia. Hornqvist has the potential to score 30-plus goals. Jones will start the season in a checking role, but the hope is he plays his way onto the power play, where he'll undoubtedly find himself stationed in front of the net.

St. Louis -- Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Porter

Berglund comes from Sweden and is the second-line center right now with Paul Kariya and David Perron. Oshie, who played three years at the University of North Dakota, is the third line center with Keith Tkachuk and David Backes.

Pietrangelo benefited from Erik Johnson's season-ending knee injury and has nine games to impress before a final decision is made on whether to send him back to his junior team or keep him in St. Louis.

Porter is 24 and made his NHL debut on Friday night against Nashville. He was sent down during training camp, but recalled due to some nagging injuries to a few forwards.

Goalie shuffle - While the goalie situations appear to be ironed out in Columbus (Pascal Leclaire), Detroit (Chris Osgood) and Nashville (Dan Ellis), things are a little cloudier in Chicago and St. Louis.

Neither Hawks coach Denis Savard nor Blues coach Andy Murray is making any bold statements about who is their No. 1 goalie.

Cristobal Huet got the start for Chicago on Friday night, but before the game Savard would not say who is going to start tonight in Washington, Huet or Nikolai Khabibulin, who cleared waivers but remains on the team.

Murray gave his goalies more heads up. He told them earlier this week that Manny Legace would start Friday night against Nashville and Chris Mason would start tonight at the New York Islanders.

"I think most goalies like to know ahead of time," Mason told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I have a chance to prepare for that game. We want to get off to a good start and I want to gain the respect of my teammates and coaches."

This and that - According to the Detroit Free Press, Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom will wear a visor all season. He hasn't worn one regularly since his rookie season. Lidstrom's right eye required 25 stitches and was swollen shut after taking a puck to the face in a preseason game last month. … Martin Havlat, who has had his right shoulder operated on three times since 2005, told before Friday's game that he was starting this season completely healthy. Havlat started the season playing right wing with center Jonathan Toews and left wing Andrew Ladd. … The Syracuse Crunch, the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate, will raise Reg Dunlop's No. 7 to the rafters of the Syracuse War Memorial Arena tonight. Paul Newman, who played Dunlop in the famous hockey movie, "Slap Shot", died last week at the age of 83. Parts of the movie were filmed at the War Memorial Arena.

He said it -- "That stat doesn't lie," Chicago coach Denis Savard said after revealing his new favorite fact that the last four Stanley Cup champs (Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim, Detroit) have combined to go 33-4-6 in October. "I'm not a numbers guy, but those numbers are pretty big. That's our goal. We want to be champs. For us to do that, we have to have a great first month."

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