Preview: Blackhawks at Penguins

Hawks v. Penguins

Every year when the schedule comes out, a lot of Blackhawks fans go scrambling to find the date the Hawks and Penguins square off, circling the date when Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby will engage in their first on-ice duel.

While Sid gets all the press, Tazer has won pretty much everything Sid has and we like to think he's the best two-way player in the game. This type of stage would help prove that.

And then it never happens.

This will be the fifth time Sidney Crosby has been hurt for the game against the Hawks, so he's never played against Toews. And seeing as how these teams only play once a year, we'll just have to wait another season.

Or possibly June, but that's kind of scary to think about.

What's left of the Penguins is still a very formidable side. They were atop the Eastern Conference until a middling 4-4 month of December, which included Crosby returning to the freeze dryer. But they've been without him for most of the season, and are still local call distance from the East's leaders.

One reason is Evgeni Malkin is kind of a mutant (even looks like one). Malkin may be the most talented player in the game, but unlike others doesn't rely on it solely. Just as his teammates do, he skates at a leg-burning pace every shift, and can make plays others simply can't. Two of the best pairs of hands will share the ice Tuesday in Malkin and Patrick Kane.

Thanks to Jordan Staal's scoring outburst (having something to do with an unsustainable 20.7% shooting percentage), the Pens are still deep down the middle even without Crosby. They also have a man-eating winger in James Neal, among the league's leaders with 18 goals. In addition, they have one of the league's best offensive d-man in Kris Letang, who's basically the French Canadian, right handed version of Duncan Keith.

Past that, the Penguins are comprised of a bunch of grinders that Dan Bylsma gets to contribute every night, even if it is sometimes just through sheer effort. Bylsma is one of the best coaches in the league, and aside from strategy or tactics it's because the effort he gets out of his players.

These two teams are basically paired with each other in every statistical category, except for one. Penalty kill. The Pens are one of the league's best, and the Hawks one of the worst. It can't be tonight, because there are too many weapons with the black and gold to give them too many looks with the extra dude.

The last four games between these two have spilled past 60 minutes. Tuesday's should be just as exciting.

Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .

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