Game Preview: Duncan Keith-less Chicago Blackhawks Open Season Series with Minnesota Wild


May 11, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) and Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) skate for the puck during the third period of game five of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Chicago won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

This game got a lot tougher.  The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Due to an illness, Duncan Keith will miss tonight’s game against Central Division rivals, the Minnesota Wild.

This will be the first of the 5-game season series between these divisional opponents.  Puck drop is set for 7:30 PM Central Time.  You can catch tonight’s game on CSN-Chicago and you can listen to it on WGN 720 AM.

Here’s a statistical breakdown of the Hawks and Wild.

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Offensively, the Hawks are one of the more dangerous teams in the league and will be facing Minnesota’s very good defensive game.  Defensively, the Hawks are elite and will have to stop the slightly above-average Wild offensive attack.

On the Power Play, the Hawks have underwhelmed and will be facing one of the league’s best Penalty Killing teams in the Wild.  The Hawks are at the top of the league in Penalty Killing and will be facing Minnesota’s near-the-bottom of the league Power Play unit.  However, Minnesota scored 2 Power Play goals on 3 chances against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, so perhaps this unit is starting to heat up.

In the faceoff circle, the Hawks are nearly elite and will be taking draws against the Wild and their slightly below-average faceoff unit.  In terms of positive puck possession, the Hawks are the best in the league, as evidenced by their Corsi For Percentage.  The Wild, however, are certainly no slouches in this category, as they are one of the better teams in the league in CF%.  This is especially admirable considering they find a way to drive the puck without relying too heavily on starting play with the puck.

The Hawks have a slight advantage, but it’s hard telling how they will fare without Keith on the blueline.  Minnesota is a very solid team and a force to be reckoned with in the Central.

The Wild are currently in 5th place in the Central Division with a record of 16-11-1, which is good for 33 points, 10 points behind the division leading Blackhawks whom they have 3 games in hand on.  While the Hawks will be without Keith, the Wild have been playing without key-members of their blueline for some time now.  Young up and coming defenseman, Jared Spurgeon is out, as is veteran defenseman Keith Ballard.  Minnesota is, however, getting Marco Scandella back on the blueline tonight.  Ryan Suterthe all-world defenseman will be suiting up tonight and has recorded 5 points in his last 3 games.  Zach Parise leads the Wild in points with 23 in 23 games played.  Jason Pominville has been on a point per game pace in his last 5 games, and has 14 assists on the season.

In net for the Wild will either be Darcy Keumper or Niklas Backstrom.  Both have struggled this season.  Keumper has a .906 Save Percentage in 21 games played and Backstrom has a .904 Save Percentage in 11 games played.

The Hawks are currently leading the Central Division with a 21-9-1 record, which is good for 43 points on the season.  Despite the recent tidal wave of success, the Hawks hold only a 1 point lead over the St. Louis Blues and only a 3 point lead over the Nashville Predators.  While it’s unfortunate that Keith will have to miss tonight’s game, there is a silver-lining.  Coach Q runs Keith’s minutes near 30 per night far too often.  Even though Keith is hailed as one of the most physically fit athletes in the NHL, he will get an extended rest, especially with the next game not until Saturday.  Brandon SaadSunday night’s hero, has been finding offensive consistency with 4 points in his last 5 games.  Patrick Kane has been electric all season and has 10 goals in his last 15 games.  After 3 points in 2 games, Marian Hossa appeared to be on the verge of going on an extended hot-streak, but has gone pointless in his last 3 games.  Look for him to breakout as early as tonight.

In net for the Hawks will be Antti Raanta.  Raanta has been excellent in limited time this season with a .944 Save Percentage in 6 games played.

It’s going to be tough for the Hawks to make up for the loss of Keith.  Arguably, he and Jonathan Toews are the most important players that propel the Hawks on-ice philosophy.  The rest of the blueline core will have to step-up if the Hawks want to take down the underrated Wild.

Go Hawks!