Some familiar faces will be missing tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the New York Rangers
After a stretch of facing teams they should have beaten (though not doing so every night), the Chicago Blackhawks are heading into a tougher slate of games. That starts tonight at the United Center against the New York Rangers.
This would be a tough enough matchup with both teams fielding full lineups. The Rangers boast an offense that has posted a league-best 99 goals and is tied for second in the Eastern Conference with 37 points, the same total Chicago leads the West with.
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While the Rangers defense has some holes, it’s all backed up with Henrik Lundqvist at goaltender. But, of course, most hockey games are rarely as simple as looking at rosters and comparing. And that’s certainly the case tonight.
The men in the Indian Head suffered yet another injury to a key player Tuesday, as Brent Seabrook went down awkwardly along the boards in the second period against Arizona. He didn’t return, and he hasn’t practiced since.
This piles on to Corey Crawford recovering from an appendectomy and Jonathan Toews missing the last seven games due to a back injury. So the Blackhawks will be without their captain and No. 1 center, starting goaltender and a top-three defenseman against one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams early on.
It sounds as if, for some reason, Michal Kempny is heading back to the healthy scratch heap. That’ll put too very slow-footed defensemen in Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival out against a speedy Rangers forward corps.
I’m not sure how coach Joel Quenneville could think that’s a positive matchup, especially with backup Scott Darling having to fend off whatever the Blackhawks defense can’t stop. Darling has been good of late, but he hasn’t faced an opponent the quality of the Rangers in the previous three games.
Here are the forward lines the Blackhawks will roll out against the Rangers, according to today’s morning skate:
Andrew Desjardins-Vincent Hinostroza-Jordin Tootoo
I wouldn’t be surprised if Hinostroza gets time away from Desjardins and Tootoo tonight. Hinostroza is one of Chicago’s speedier forwards, and he could certainly be useful against a suspect New York defense. Other than that, the status quo remains unchanged.
Moving on to the Rangers
New York played last night, winning 2-1 at Winnipeg. This will mark the third consecutive team the Blackhawks will face that is on the back end of a back-to-back. It didn’t end up mattering against the Jets on Sunday, while Arizona probably would’ve looked bad with no break or a week-long break.
Alain Vigneault’s team is making an interesting decision tonight. Former Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta started last night against Winnipeg and picked up the win, and if the morning skate is any indication, Raanta is getting the call again tonight.
Henrik Lundqvist is one of the world’s best goaltenders, and the Rangers were probably planning on saving him for tonight’s game. But Raanta gave up just one goal against the Jets, and his career stats at the United Center are strong: 14-0-3, 1.59 goals-against average.
Sure, plenty of those games were hand-picked starts from Coach Q while Raanta was with Chicago, but that’s still an impressive mark. Impressive enough to let Lundqvist sit? We’ll find out tonight.
So this matchup will feature two teams not offering their normal looks. The Blackhawks would certainly like to pick up two points with the Blues chasing in the Central Division and Dallas, the Rangers (again), St. Louis and San Jose showing up on the schedule in the next 10 days.