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Pittsburgh vs. Chicago Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (30-26-6-66) at Chicago Blackhawks (34-17-8-76)

Where: United Center
When: Friday, February 27, 2008, 8:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: The Penguins will face the Blackhawks for the first time this season.  



  Pens vs. Blackhawks 2/14/07
Contain the Dynamic Duo: The Chicago Blackhawks, just like the Pittsburgh Penguins, have a dynamic tandem in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The two lottery picks were selected in back-to-back drafts and have delivered in a big way. Toews is more balanced while Kane is a much better setup man. Both players can single-handedly win a game and Pittsburgh must limit their damage.

The Penguins and Blackhawks play very similar styles. Both prefer an aggressive, attacking approach at both ends of the ice. Chicago has been running its system much longer than Pittsburgh (all season vs. five games) and is more comfortable and cohesive. The Penguins have to be disciplined in their approach and execution or else they’ll play right into the hands of Chicago. 
The Chicago Blackhawks are back. Chicago is on the cusp of breaking into the postseason, building on the momentum the team has accumulated the past few seasons. The proud Original Six franchise is emerging from a dark abyss that saw the team miss the playoffs the past five seasons. In fact, in the last 10 postseasons, the Hawks were absent on nine occasions.

The organization has undergone a top-to-bottom makeover the past few years. Of course, the tragic passing of owner Bill Wirtz last season marked the first big change on the landscape. Wirtz, who was in charge of the Blackhawks for over 40 years, was succeeded by his son Rocky Wirtz. The new management group, which included new president John McDonough, made a bold move only four games into the season. Denis Savard was relieved of his duties as the team’s head coach, replaced by veteran coach Joel Quenneville.

The Blackhawks really came together as a unit in December when the team went on an improbable 10-1-1 run to further cement their status among the better teams in the NHL. Chicago has too much ground to make up in the Central Division (trailing Detroit by 12 points), but the Blackhawks are basically locked into the fourth slot in the Western Conference. For a city that has seen one playoff appearance in a decade, there are no complaints.
Chicago’s meteoric rise last season caught the attention of players around the league. General manager Dale Tallon was able to lure away All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell from San Jose. To upgrade the goaltending position, Tallon brought in Cristobal Huet. Tallon also signed defenseman Aaron Johnson and Matt Walker to solidify the blue line.
The Chicago Blackhawks may be the most exciting team to watch in the NHL. They’re up-and-down, speed-oriented style is both exciting and exhilarating. The Blackhawks possess one of the league’s best offenses with 3.30 goals per games to rank fourth in the league (Boston is third with 3.31).

Chicago followed a similar model as the Penguins in terms of turning their franchise around. With a few down seasons, the team netted some top-end draft picks and stockpiled talent. Chicago has a youthful and prominent 1-2 punch with 20-year-olds Patrick Kane (first overall, 2007) and Jonathan Toews (third overall, 2006). Both players put had spectacular rookie campaigns last season. Kane led the Blackhawks in scoring with 72 points on 21 goals and 51 assists. Toews netted 24 goals and 30 assists for 54 points, even though he played in only 64 games. Kane is again leading Chicago in scoring this season with 54 points (20G-34A) while Toews is third with 49 (22G-27).

Patrick Sharp usually plays alongside Kane and Toews. He’s collected 23 goals and 38 points this year but is sidelined with a lower-body injury that will force him to miss the matchup with Pittsburgh. Winger Martin Havlat is having a monster year for Chicago and is within reach of setting new career highs in several offensive categories. He’s already tallied 52 points on 20 goals and 32 assists.
The Chicago offense gets most of the recognition – and it’s easy to understand why with names like Kane and Toews. But the strength of the Blackhawks full-throttle strategy is built on a solid and mobile defensive corps. The Blackhawks have allowed 2.42 goals per game, the fourth best mark in the NHL despite their run-and-gun approach.

The skillfully gifted Campbell is a prominent member of the Chicago defense and offense. He leads the team’s blueliners in scoring with 41 points (7G-34A) and is the key cog to the team’s power play. Other young and exceptional talents on the back end are Duncan Keith (54th overall, 2002), Brent Seabrook (14th overall, 2003) and Cam Barker (third overall, 2004). Keith, who may be the fastest skater on the team, proved his merit last year when he led the team with a plus-30 rating while chipping in 32 points. Keith has been even better this season, already hitting the 32-point mark and leading the entire NHL (tied) with a plus-31. Barker is another offensive threat and is still learning the ropes in his second season. Seabrook was named as one of the NHL’s top 10 defensive defensemen by The Hockey News.
The Blackhawks grabbed the best available goaltender in the free agent market in Huet to push Nikolai Khabibulin. Huet is playing for his third team in the past year (Montreal, Washington and Chicago). He may have found a home with the Blackhawks after inking a four-year contract in free agency. Khabibulin has a solid resume that includes a Stanley Cup championship in 2004 with Tampa Bay. The duo split time this season with both putting up impressive numbers. Khabibulin has a 17-5-5 record, 2.32 goals against average and .924 save percentage, but has been sidelined with a groin injury. Huet is carrying the load in Khabibulin’s absence. He’s post a 17-12-3 mark, 2.32 GAA and .915 save percentage.
The obvious spotlight pick would be either Kane or Toews. However, everyone is well aware of what dynamic players they are, thus everyone will pay attention to their performance. So we would like to highlight Campbell.

The blueliner was the 156th selection (sixth round) of the 1997 draft by the Buffalo Sabres. He’s a swift skater and has great vision and puck movement. Campbell had trouble translating his immense talent to the NHL level…and then the lockout came. The new-look NHL eliminated clutching and grabbing while allowing skilled players to thrive. That’s when Campbell really broke out.

In the post-lockout season, Campbell posted 44 points on 12 goals and 32 assists. He followed that campaign with a 48-point effort and a plus-28 rating. The Strathroy, Ontario native had his best season last year and was named to the NHL All-Star team. But he was also in the final year of his contract and Sabres opted to move the blueliner to San Jose at the trade deadline. He finished the year with eight goals and new career highs with 54 assists and 62 points.

Instead of re-signing with the loaded Sharks, Campbell signed with the up-and-coming Blackhawks. In his first season in the Windy City, Campbell has tallied 41 points and the future is looking bright for the stalwart defenseman.
“(Nikolai) Khabibulin said I shaved seven years off, then (Patrick) Sharp’s girlfriend told me I look older. I don’t care about Khabibulin. What does he know?”
- Patrick Kane on cutting his trademark long, curly hair, Yahoo! Sports
> Martin Havlat is riding a six-game scoring streak into the Pittsburgh matchup. He has posted three goals and seven assists for 10 points in that stretch. 

> Chicago has the fourth-best home record in the NHL (15-5-5). Only San Jose (26-2-3), Detroit (23-4-3) and Boston (20-4-4) have played better defending its home ice.

Author: Sam Kasan

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