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Islanders vs. Blackhawks Gameday: Just Shoot on These Guys

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Both of the Chicago Blackhawks' goalies have sub-.900 save percentages, yet their team is tied for third-most standings points in the league. (So are the Rangers and Stars, but that won't last.) Corey Crawford has given up 10 goals on his last 76 shots -- 9 of them at even strength -- but the Hawks won two of his three games in that stretch.

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Islanders (7-11-4, 15th/E) @ Blackhawks (14-8-3, t-2nd/W)
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Hawking a Program for Every Game:
Second City Hockey

The Hawks are in a division that's currently home to three of the best possession teams in the league. At that rate, if this were the old Norris days then only one of them would make it to the third round. If this were the old-old 1 v. 16 days they might make up three-fourths of the final four. But it's 2011, the shootout and division winner seeds will muck things up, and any team can hold on for a regulation tie and a coin flip.

The Islanders would do well to get to that coin flip tonight.

The Hawks put on nearly five more shots per game and give up 2.5 shots less than the Isles. Their PK has been oddly horrid (74% ... goaltending?), but they're scoring 3.12 goals per game. If Al Montoya plays in his hometown, it will be on him to save the day, with perhaps some help from whichever guy wears the pads at the other end.

UPDATE: Montoya indeed gets the start. Same lineup as before, except MacDonald is a gametime decision. Said the Big Cubano to Newsday's Arthur Staple on playing in his hometown:

"Friday night in the city, this is the place to be. It'll be an atmosphere to remember."

Whether or not Andrew MacDonald is ready to go, the Hawks will pose matchup problems for the visiting Isles. A red hot Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are on separate lines*, and we probably don't need to go into their other fine Sharps, Hossas and Bolands. (All of the above except Toews scored in last year's 5-0 drubbing of Nathan Lawson.) Tool Carcillo is also there, but he's as liable to do something stupid and put himself in the box for karmic effluvia as he is to hurt someone.

*UPDATE 2: Of course tonight is the night the Hawks stop playing Kane at center and move him back to Toews' right wing.

If MacDonald plays, it's at less than 100% as he and Travis Hamonic take the poison of Jack Capuano's choosing. If he doesn't, then Dylan Reese slides in and either Hamonic babysits or Steve Staios leaves Mark Streit's reliable side.

The Islanders are promoting that the veteran pro Reese [Isles] has been the best D-man down in Bridgeport [Newsday], and that's a good sign for him, honestly. As much as we sometimes pile on him, he does have some attributes and, as I was thinking last night, if he truly has made adjustments to his game under Brent Thompson, then he wouldn't be the first pro in his late 20s to adapt himself to serviceable #6/7 duty. Those of us who have tired of watching Mike Mottau can only hope.

Capuano's quote in that Newsday story is worth pulling:

"We told our guys when they left training camp, 'When the phone rings, you've got to be the best player,' and Dylan was playing the best hockey as far as the D go."

The Hawks have their own version of a turnstile on defense, and his name is John Scott, if only they'll dress him. He's really tall and intimidating and can beat someone up in a fight with his reach, yada yada, but if they're lucky enough to see him the Isles would be wise to just avoid him. He's doesn't skate well enough to really hurt anyone in open play, and he often represents an opponent's best chance to sustain offensive pressure.

Scott didn't play in the Hawks' most recent game, a 4-1 loss to the Coyotes on their first game back from their annual lengthy road trip while the circus is in town.

A Note about the Anthem in Chicago

Every once in a while I'll hear what I assume is a whipper-snapper and über patriot say the Chicago fans cheering throughout the national anthem is disrespectful. This may have even come up during the last Isles visit there. Disregarding the awkward sports tradition of pre-game anthems, I can only assume someone who believes it's disrespect doesn't know how it originated.

Unlike fanbases like the Stars or Capitals who shout one word of the anthem ("stars!" or "Oh!"/"Red") in relation to their team, the Hawks anthem rendition evolved from a rally cry in the '80s -- legend has it during the playoffs against the Oilers -- to a tradition that happened to have quite the patriotic implication one year:

Keep in mind, though All-Star Games were still slightly competitive in 1991, there wasn't much to cheer for. This, days after Gulf War 1 began, was the highlight of the afternoon in my book. (And in fact, NBC cut coverage of the game short to give war updates.) Regardless of the geopolitics of the day, that scene had to send a charge through troops who were deployed to do their country's bidding.

I was raised an Islanders and Blues fan, and the Hawks were the Blues' hated rivals in those days. (Just like you can tell an Isles fan's date of entry by how much he hates the Leafs or Pens, you can tell a Blues fan's by whether he hates the Hawks or the Wings more.) So I wanted nothing to do with Chicago Stadium (a younger, dumber version of myself may or may not have ceremonially relieved himself on its facade. My father on the other hand, being a pre-1967 NHL fan, actually had the Hawks as his "second" team, which I could never wrap my head around). Anyway, being all too familiar with how Chicago did the anthem, you bet I was looking forward to that All-Star Game at that point in history.

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