James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Blackhawks, Canucks clash

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

With 13 games on the docket tonight, it seems silly to pinpoint one that towers over the others to the point that it deserves a huge chunk of the Daily Dose’s attention.


For better or worse, I’m silly enough to do just that, though. While there’s no denying that every contest is worth the same up-to-two points for every team involved, there are certain games that take on added meaning.


(Example: Honestly, I thought that the Boston Bruins-Buffalo Sabres game in which Milan Lucic bowled over Ryan Miller was too easy a narrative. Sometimes the best stories are the simplest ones, though, and if you follow the trajectory of both teams it’s tough to deny that it was a pivotal moment in their seasons.)



Anyway, it’s probably reasonable to say that Tuesday’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks is as big as a game can get on January 31. It’s likely the Canucks’ most challenging emotional obstacle since that manic game against the Boston Bruins.



My guess is that while Chicago likely has even more distaste for Vancouver than Boston does, this one shouldn’t be as chaotic. The Blackhawks don’t have the same bruising lineup as the Bruins, so I’d expect shoving matches to replace ugly hits and crazy scuffles. (Daniel Carcillo being out of the mix should reduce the chances for violence, for one thing.)


From a more practical standpoint, the Blackhawks probably want to limit the carnage because they have a grueling road trip coming up. Think of this game as starting a lengthy roller coaster ride at the peak. As tough as this match might be, it’s merely the beginning of a nine-game road trip that will last 20 days.



While the road trip is foreboding, one of the interesting wrinkles of this game is that Chicago should be a stronger team than it was in its last pre-All-Star-break contest. Jonathan Toews has been all-but-confirmed to return to action after squeezing in a mini-vacation with some sort of wrist/hand injury. Patrick Sharp sounds like a coin flip after healing up a hand/wrist ailment, although his has already sidelined him for about three weeks.


Chicago will be deeper at center in a more subtle way than the return of Captain Serious. Canucks fans might have to begrudgingly cheer at least one Blackhawks player tonight as Brendan Morrison will make his debut for Chicago after being traded from the Calgary Flames. I don’t expect Morrison to light up the league but if he gels with Marian Hossa/whoever might draw second line duties, he could have some solid depth potential.



The interesting storylines aren’t just Chicago-centric, either. Cory Schneider will get his first start since Jan. 10 and only his third of 2012. That shouldn’t be a big deal since he is a backup goalie playing behind a guy who’s making an astronomical amount of money for a significant amount of years, but many Canucks fans view Schneider as the Steve Young to Roberto Luongo’s Joe Montana. If Schneider can nab a shutout or even a great performance against Chicago, it might earn him a few starts, which could be blown hilariously out of proportion.



Monday marked a rather odd and disturbing day in the consistent beating that is following Sidney Crosby’s injury updates. There’s some drama over the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins supposedly failed to diagnose a rather serious neck injury for Crosby, which has allegedly healed up already. Or something like that.


Look, there’s plenty of speculation and even some finger-pointing out there, but for most of us, it’s all about hoping that Crosby can come back close to 100 percent without risking his adult life in the process. It seems clear that even Crosby and some of the world’s best medical professionals don’t really know when he can come back. Naturally, we’ll keep an eye on the situation even if doing so generates headaches.



With Tomas Kaberle somehow off the books already, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford apparently felt like the team needed another defenseman to make $4 million per year. That guy happens to be Tim Gleason, who received a surprising four-year, $16 million pact.


Look, Gleason is by most accounts a very solid defenseman, but it’s unclear why he received so much. He’s certainly not very relevant in fantasy terms with just 14 points and less than a shot per game (48 in 51 contests). Sure, his 44 PIM are solid and it’s impressive that he manages a +2 rating on that mess of a team, but I’m still a bit stunned by the dollars there.



The general vibe is that trade targets such as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter won’t be up for grabs when the trade deadline comes around. It’s tough to blame the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators for trying to hold onto crucial players like Parise and Suter, but they face a legitimate risk of losing them for nothing … Mikhail Grabovski was named the player of last week … Speaking of trade rumors, you can probably put those rather silly Tim Thomas ones to rest, especially if you’re basing them on the White House snub.



Word is that Evander Kane won’t be back this week but Dustin Byfuglien is approaching a return … Nathan Horton’s concussion issues continue … Guillaume Latendresse is also dealing with similar problems, but might be a little closer to a return. (Click here for the full injury list.)

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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