Chicago and Washington: Rising to the top

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Chicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals
12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 14, 2010
Live on NBC

It’s just a normal, regular season game between two teams that meet
just once a year – but today’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and
Washington Capitals is so much more than that. It’s a game between two
potential Stanley Cup finalists and two teams who have mirrored the
other in a rise to tops of each conference.

We always love to make the most of the storylines each game and
perhaps make them out to be a bit more than they really are. Yet today’s
game is such an interesting matchup that I can’t help but look ahead at
what these two teams could bring in what would be perhaps the most
exciting playoff series the NHL has even known. The skill on display by
each, the amount of goals scored due to goaltending ineptitude? It’d be
like an all-star game, but much more physical and the stakes are just a
bit higher.

From mediocrity to potential greatness.

The Blackhawks and Capitals have each risen from the ashes that lie
in the dredges of each conference to become the two most exciting teams
in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks lead the Western Conference,
technically, but their style is so methodical – and perhaps boring —
that the Blackhawks have certainly taking the lead in scariest team in
the West.

Just a few years ago both of these teams were either out of the
playoffs or just lucky to get there. For the Blackhawks it was much
worse; the team had just one postseason appearance in 10 seasons. Yet
when a team is that bad for that long, there are some positives that
come from all of the frustration: high picks in the draft.

It’s all about the draft, baby.

While Chicago’s rise has been a bit swifter than Washington’s, each
team boasts a nucleus of great players taken in the draft. Sure, not
every team with a number one draft pick becomes great just a few years
later – but it sure doesn’t hurt when trying to rebuild. The Capitals
and Blackhawks both built a team predicated on speed and skill, and they
drafted players that fit into that mold.

Of course, getting Alex Ovechkin in 2004 certainly helped speed up
the process for Washington but it’s still taken them a number of years
of building around him to get where they are now. Plus, the combination
of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could be considered an ever greater
threat than the Great Ovechkin alone.

Who’s greater? Let’s find out.

Are the Capitals really as good as their record says they are? I know
they score a lot of goals, but they can’t be just heads and shoulders
above every other team like it seems they are on paper. And despite my
constant harping on Chicago’s goaltending situation, there’s no doubt
its defense is miles ahead of Washington’s.

Perhaps Washington’s bloated points lead is the result of playing in
perhaps the worst division in the NHL. Well, maybe not the worst – but
having just one team in the top eight in the conference doesn’t help the
argument. And while we all fawn over Chicago’s exciting style and their
great defense, our lamenting of the goaltending is perhaps a bit
overplayed.

So who is better? Which team’s offense can overcome the other’s the
most? These are the two most exciting teams in hockey to watch and
they’ll be taking on one another in a one-game playoff to determine
which team really has risen higher in such a short time. I know that
it’s just one game but these are two teams that are at the peak of their
skill level after years of re-tooling and rebuilding. They’ve been
raised side by side, their styles mirroring each other and now we get to
see them faceoff for the only time this season.

Hopefully it won’t be the last.

Join us for a live chat of today’s game at 11:30 a.m. EST, only on
Pro Hockey Talk!

Goalie nods: Jared Coreau makes NHL debut for Red Wings

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 17:  Jared Coreau #31 of the Detroit Red Wings warms up prior to the start of the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 17, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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With Jimmy Howard still sidelined with an injury, and the Detroit Red Wings playing a set of back-to-back games this weekend, Petr Mrazek is getting the night off on Saturday evening.

Coach Jeff Blashill announced earlier in the day that Jared Coreau will be making his NHL debut tonight. He is going to get quite a test right off the bat as the Red Wings are sending him right into the deep end of the pool as he has to go against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 25-year-old Coreau joined the Red Wings organization as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Michigan university back in 2013-14. He has spent all of his time since then playing for Toledo of the ECHL and Grand Rapids of the AHL, and been mostly impressive when given the opportunity with a .924 save percentage in 85 starts for Grand Rapids over the past three years. The thing that stands out the most about him is probably the fact is listed at 6-5, 220 pounds. He is part of the new wave of goaltenders entering the NHL that are absolutely massive in size.

At the other end of the ice, the Penguins are going back to Marc-Andre Fleury after he made one of his best starts of the season on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, stopping 33 out of 35 shots in a 6-2 win.

The Penguins are still trying to figure out how to handle their tag-team duo with Matt Murray and Fleury, but for the time being it simply seems to be coach Mike Sullivan sticking with the hot hand. For a while, that was clearly Murray and the number of starts reflected that. But as his play has cooled off a bit in recent starts Fleury is now getting another opportunity to take back some playing time.

Elsewhere…

— In the afternoon games we had Michael Leighton and Henrik Lundqvist going for the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, Scott Darling and Steve Mason going for the Blackhawks and Flyers, Tuukka Rask and Robin Lehner for the Bruins and Sabres, and Keith Kinkaid and Pekka Rinne for the Devils and Predators.

— In Tampa Bay Ben Bishop will look to snap his personal four-game losing streak when he gets the start against Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals. Bishop, the runner up to Holtby in the Vezina Trophy voting a season ago, has had a tough year for the Lightning with a .902 save percentage through his first 16 appearances.

— With Craig Anderson away from the team again to be with his wife, Mike Condon gets the start for the Ottawa Senators. Condon has a .931 save percentage in four starts since joining the Senators. He will be opposed by Roberto Luongo in the Florida net.

Carter Hutton makes his sixth starter of the season — just his second since Nov. 12 — when he gets the call for the St. Louis Blues against Winnipeg. The Jets’ goalie rotation is likely to land on Michael Hutchinson after he was the first goalie off the ice at the morning skate.

Frederik Andersen looks to build on his strong November (.931 save percentage in 12 appearances) when he goes for the Toronto Maple Leafs against Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks.

Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to go for the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets as they look to continue the best start in franchise history when they take on the Arizona Coyotes. His play has been one of the biggest differences for the Blue Jackets this season. Arizona starts Mike Smith.

Semyon Varlamov will make his second start in a row when the Colorado Avalanche host the Dallas Stars. Varlamov has had a tough start to the season with a league-leading 10 losses entering play on Saturday and a .905 save percentage. The Stars have yet to announce their starting goalie. Antti Niemi allowed five goals against the Penguins on Thursday night.

— The Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers have not announced their starting goalies.

Blackhawks announce Corey Crawford will be out after appendectomy

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 28:  Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 28, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Well, now we know why the Chicago Blackhawks had to sign an emergency goaltender for Saturday afternoon.

The team announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford is going to be sidelined after undergoing an appendectomy in Philadelphia on Saturday.

When the morning began the Blackhawks revealed that Crawford would not be available for their game against the Flyers due to an illness, resulting in backup Scott Darling getting the start. The team then had to sign an emergency backup — 23-year-old Eric Semborski, a former club hockey player at Temple University — to sit behind Darling.

Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry issued the following statement: ““Corey presented this morning with acute appendicitis. He is undergoing an appendectomy today at a Philadelphia hospital. We are anticipating a full recovery and return to play. We will provide details regarding the timeline of his return after we have more information about the surgery.”

In recent years the timeframe for players returning from an appendectomy has ranged from just a couple of days (Ryan Callahan and Jonathan Ericsson) to several weeks. Goaltenders, due to the movements that are required because of the nature of the position, seem to take longer to get back into the lineup than forwards and defenseman.

In the meantime, the Blackhawks will likely rely on Darling to get the bulk of the starts in Crawford’s absence. They will also have an opportunity to make a call up from the AHL.

Crawford has been outstanding for the Blackhawks this season in his 20 starts, currently owning a .927 save percentage. Over the past three years he has developed into one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the NHL.

After playing in Philadelphia on Saturday, the Blackhawks return home on Sunday to play the Winnipeg Jets and then are back in action again on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.

Waiver news: Predators add Boucher from Devils, Kings waive Purcell

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 20:  Reid Boucher #12 of the New Jersey Devils skates in an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center on March 20, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Devils won 2-1.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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There was some interesting player movement on the NHL’s waiver wire on Saturday afternoon.

First, the Nashville Predators claimed forward Reid Boucher from the New Jersey Devils. What makes that move so fascinating is that the move was officially announced two hours before the two teams played in Nashville.

When the morning started, Boucher was still technically a member of the Devils. After a short walk down the hall to the home locker room, he could very likely be in the lineup on Saturday against his former team.

The 23-year-old Boucher has played in 82 games for the Devils over the past four years, scoring 11 goals to go with 18 assists. He scored eight of those goals a year ago (in only 39 games). He has produced at pretty much every level he has played at so it is probably worthy gamble for the Predators to take.

Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Kings placed veteran forward Teddy Purcell on waivers after a slow start to the season that has seen him record just two assists in 12 games.

The Kings signed Purcell over the summer to a one-year, $1.6 million contract on the first day of free agency.

Purcell, 31, has always been a favorite of the advanced stats community because of his possession numbers and the fact he has usually produced like a top-six forward, but has bounced around the league a little bit over the past couple of years, playing for Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Florida, and Los Angeles since the start of the 2013-14 season.

In 76 games for the Oilers and Panthers in 2015-16 he scored 14 goals and added 29 assists.

The Blackhawks had to sign an emergency goalie for today’s game

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 22:  Scott Darling #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on during a game against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on January 22, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks will be without starting goaltender Corey Crawford on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an illness. That means his backup, Scott Darling, will get the start in goal. Nothing really out of the ordinary here until you realize somebody has to serve as the backup for Darling.

With Crawford unavailable, and a 1 p.m. ET puck drop preventing the team from making a call up from the American Hockey League, the team needed to scramble to find another goalie.

To fill that vacancy the team announced less than an hour before the start of their game that it has signed Eric Semborski to an amateur tryout contract to serve as Darling’s backup for the day.

If that name does not register with you, it is understandable.

According to the Blackhawks the 23-year-old Semborski “played club hockey with Temple University and for the Empire Junior Hockey League’s Jersey Wildcats.”

He has no professional hockey experience.

Every year you see a handful of situations like this when a team needs a goaltender at the last minute. It is usually a former college player or a team’s junior prospect that is closer to the team at that moment than the minor league team is. It is sure to be an amazing experience for Semborski to get to spend a day in an NHL uniform and take in the game from the bench.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are probably hoping nothing happens to Darling over the next two-and-a-half hours.