It's banner day! I don't know about you, but I was so excited I was barely able to sleep. I watched too many highlights late last night and still woke up at 5. (Oops.)
Let's catch up with the Blackhawks.
Out: Montador (concussion), Rozsival, Bollig
Enemy reading: Second City Hockey
After their infamous roster blowup in the summer of 2010, Chicago is beginning to replace some of the depth they lost with young players like Kruger, Leddy, Saad, and Shaw.
Bolland's role has usually been to take on tough defensive assignments while centering the checking line. This year he takes a turn in the top six, leaving the spot to 21-year-old Shaw. It'll be interesting to track the impact of that switch on the shot battle and matchups.
2011-12 in review: Last year the Blackhawks were a top five puck-possession team that scored buckets of goals, but were hampered by their goaltending. Crawford gets another chance at the starter role, but if he falters again, many expect Chicago to make a move.
Two consecutive first round exits don't tell the whole story. Even if their younger players experience some growing pains, they should remain a top contender in the West.
That means Sutter has been plotting to take them down for weeks.
Roster note: Jonathan Toews missed practice because of the flu yesterday, but the Hawks are hopeful that he'll play. If not, Brandon Saad will center Carcillo and Hossa.
Expected scratches: Richardson, Stewart, Muzzin
IR: Kopitar, Mitchell (confirmed)
No team was hotter than the Kings in their last 40 games. The coaching change, a blockbuster trade, and new call-ups had transformed them from a middling team, to good, to great. They bulldozed their way through top seeds to one of the best postseason records in history.
Thanks to Lombardi's skill, the reigning champs kept every player who took a shift in the playoffs. As Sutter pointed out, though, the same locker room doesn't mean they have the same lineup. Anze Kopitar and Willie Mitchell are in injured reserve. Four defensemen will have to adjust to new partners without the benefit of any preseason games, and the entire top six has been rearranged. (At least both teams will be in the same boat there.)
Jonathan Quick will be playing for the first time after offseason back surgery. He has looked good in practice, though everyone is waiting to see what kind of start the Conn Smythe winner gets off to. If all goes well, he's slated to get 90% of the starts.
There will be challenges beyond the roster changes. Sutter was realistic about the emotional jolt the pregame ceremony could have on the players, with rings handed out and the banner finally raised above home ice. The challenge will be to keep their mental focus, since their opponent will be focused on nothing but beating them. If anyone can keep them in line, it's Sutter.
Boston and Chicago didn't win their banner games. Let's hope the Kings are better.
The puck drops at noon.
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