Hockey Pick: Chicago Blackhawks @ Tampa Bay Lightning 11/4/11
Part of the reason why the Blackhawks nearly missed out on the playoffs last year was because of a swoon in the Spring that included two losses to these Bolts. Now, they have their offense fully intact, and they are playing some fantastic hockey. No one appears to be challenging Chicago right now atop the Central Division, though we know that we are only just more than 10 percent of the season into things. The combination of Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Kane all have double digits in points this year, and we haven’t even mentioned Jonathan Toews quite yet with his four goals and three assists. The end result is 3.3 goals per game, No. 3 in the league. There are always question marks in net for this team. In fairness, the Blackhawks survived a run all the way to a championship two years ago with Antti Niemi in net in spite of the fact that he was getting questioned all year long for his iffy play. That being said, this might be the year that Corey Crawford surprises us all. The 26 year old net minder already has five wins to his credit this year, and he has a respectable 2.38 GAA.
The Lightning are doing what they can to try to figure out how to play more consistent hockey. The team is 5-5-2 through 12 games, and though keeping up that type of winning percentage will probably put it in the playoffs, it’s not nearly good enough to challenge the Washington Capitals atop this division. The issues definitely aren’t revolving around a lack of goals. Marc-Andre Fleury probably shouldn’t be the team’s top scorer, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that he has 13 points in 12 games. Teddy Purcell, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos all have double digits in points. Vinny LeCavalier has five goals, second on the team. We are also expecting good things down the road from rookie Brett Connolly, who scored his first career goal on the road in a 4-2 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. Instead, the questions come in net. It’s hard for the Lightning to turn their back on Dwayne Roloson after he took them to within one game of the Stanley Cup last year, but he has a 3.70 GAA in seven starts this year. The good news is that in his last appearance at home, he shut out the Winnipeg Jets.
Chicago Blackhawks @ Tampa Bay Lightning Pick: The last three teams that have come to Tampa Bay have scored a combined one goal. If the defensive intensity can keep up like that for the Bolts, they’ll be able to strike down the Blackhawks on Friday night.
NHL Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning
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