Rise and shine, Cats fans…it’s a great Sunday for some afternoon hockey - especially when my two favorite teams are going at it!
If you remember, the last time the Hawks and Cats clashed, Florida had a terrible first period. The sluggish start put the Panthers behind 3-0, a deficit they could not come back from - ultimately losing 5-2.
Since that game, Florida has gone on to win three in a row, while the Hawks have gone 1-1. It’s important to note that Chicago’s latest win was a 5-3 victory over the Lightning (in Tampa). This was a big win not only for Chicago, but for the Hawks’ rookie phenom Connor Bedard, who had a four-point night (2 G, 2 A).
Since their weak effort against Chicago, Florida has seemingly gelled a bit more each game. While still a work in progress regarding consistent 60-minute efforts, the forward and defensive corps have looked much better.
Giving credit where credit is due, the Panthers defense has looked good as of late. I know…it’s surprising to say, ha!
For all the flak he takes. I think OEL has really come around. He has great vision out there and is good at starting a rush. I have really come to like the towering Niko Mikkola. He has great reach and plays well defensively. But his secret weapon is his knack for jumping in at the right time in the offensive zone. He’ll pick and choose his opportunities, and when he does, all of a sudden you see him creep down into a prime scoring area.
Florida’s defense has improved to a 2.85 goals per game.
A key to today’s game is understanding that while the Blackhawks are a rebuilding team, they don’t die easy. Outside of a couple blips, the Hawks are a team that hangs around and make themselves tough to play against.
After his “coming out party” in Tampa, I’d keep a close eye on Bedard today. Trying to neutralize him will be tough, but it’s a necessity. He doesn’t only posses the ability to score pretty goals, hey gets the greasy ones, too — as evident in their win over the Lightning. He’s also flanked by veterans Hall and Foligno. These three make up a really good line. Oh, and don’t sleep on Perry. While a big pest, the guy can actually play.
Florida should get the offense chugging today. Chicago boasts some talented rookie defensemen, and the Cats would do right to test these guys early and often. The talent of Florida’s first two lines should overwhelm the Hawks, but they need to have a strong start. None of this 20 or 40 minute effort stuff. Let’s see a full 60-minute slog here.
I think Stolarz took my advice and got himself a new mask design. Digging this one way more than the original. The entire setup looks great.