Blackhawks vs. Coyotes Preview: All Eyes Will Be on Raffi Torres

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IFebruary 7, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 14:  Raffi Torres #37 of the Phoenix Coyotes in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Arena on April 14, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres will be the center of attention on Thursday night when he faces the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time since he was suspended 25 games (21 after an appeal) for a dangerous hit to the head on Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa during Game 3 of the two teams' first-round playoff series last season.

The expectation is that Torres will be challenged in the first period, probably on his first shift, to fight one of the Blackhawks enforcers such as Brandon Bollig.

"Those things work themselves out. I'm not preparing for anything out of the ordinary," said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett on Wednesday.

People expecting the Blackhawks to target Torres have to understand that while the Coyotes forward made a huge mistake during last year's playoffs, his lengthy suspension was a fitting punishment for his actions.

Torres was suspended 25 games (an appeal brought it down to 21), which is the longest suspension ever given during the NHL playoffs, and it cost the veteran an opportunity to help his teammates in their pursuit of a Stanley Cup Final berth.

With that said, expect the Blackhawks to finish their check and rough up Torres without taking a penalty whenever possible. Chicago wants to send a message, but it has bigger goals this season than settling old scores.

Hossa is back in the lineup, and he has played very well with six goals and four assists in 10 games this season. It's time for him and the Blackhawks to move on from the Torres incident last season and continue working toward the team's goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Speaking of goals, one thing that Torres has worked on following his suspension is finding ways for him to play hard, but not go over the line.

"He's just had some reckless in his game—and not just the one in the playoffs last year, but before that," said Tippett. "So we've tried to show him instances where he's gone out of his way to deliver a hit that if we take those out of his game, he can still be a very competitive player without the recklessness."

Just like Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke, who has played the game hard but fair since his most recent suspension in 2011, Torres also understands that he cannot play reckless and must learn to control his intensity and competitiveness.

"If I want to keep playing in this league, I'm going to have change the way [I play]," said Torres on Wednesday (via Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago).

"We have to protect the top players in the league and if it's going to take me thinking a little out there instead of running around w/ my head cut off, that's what (it'll) to take."

As for the game itself, expect a lot of scoring and exciting end-to-end action. The Blackhawks and Coyotes last met on January 20 and Chicago won 6-4, with each team scoring twice in the third period.

Defeating the Blackhawks won't be easy since Chicago has the best record in the NHL and are the only team without a regulation loss. The team also ranks sixth in goals scored, fourth in goals against and has the league's best penalty kill.

The Coyotes started the season 1-4, but they haven't lost in regulation since (3-0-2) and are currently on a two-game winning streak.

Thursday's matchup with Chicago will also be the eighth home game of the season for Phoenix. The San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens are the only other teams that have played seven home games already.

Torres may be public enemy No. 1 among Blackhawks fans, who usually do a great job of supporting their team at Arena in Glendale, but there are more important goals for Chicago in this game.

Taking two points and maintaining the best record in the NHL should be the top priorities for the Blackhawks, not revenge.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.