Oct 31, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings left wingTanner Pearson
(70) during the game against the Nashville Predators at Staples Center. Kings won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Tonight: Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. (CSN Chicago, NHL Network)
The death of the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champions was greatly exaggerated, as the Kings have risen to the top of a currently weak Pacific Division by virtue of winning seven consecutive games. And that was after losing their first three.
The Kings have 14 points by virtue of a 7-3-0 mark, tying them for first with the Vancouver Canucks, who have played one more game. They’ve been following a similar offensive trajectory to the Blackhawks, as both teams have potted just 24 goals while managing to stay above water in goals for/against ratio. Only two Kings are in double digits for points, and just barely. Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli have each managed 10 points so far, with Toffoli boasting a league-best nine goals (tied with Dallas’ Jamie Benn). Offseason acquisition Milan Lucic has a fine seven points, as does Drew Doughty (all assists). But after that, the scoring falls off the table for the Kings, as no one else has more than four points.
Los Angeles’ blue line is a mish-mash behind Doughty and can absolutely be exploited. Christian Ehrhoff‘s better days are behind him, Jake Muzzin is a fine piece but nothing spectacular, Alec Martinez ripped out our hearts in 2014 but hasn’t done much since and the rest is blah. It’s all in front of consistently overrated goaltender Jonathan Quick, who carries worse numbers than Crawford (.925 save percentage, 2.09 goals-against average) but will always be discussed as the second coming while Crow is treated like week-old leftovers. Get inside Quick’s fragile mind, and the Blackhawks can make him implode pretty quickly.
Oct 29, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues right wingVladimir Tarasenko
(91) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks, 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
For once, NBC Sports actually found a rivalry game for its Rivalry Week slot. It’s the first meeting of two teams that wouldn’t hesitate to throw each other out of a moving boat if the opportunity was presented, and it’s sure to be hard-hitting and angry.
The Blues, as I mentioned before, are pulling their best St. Louis Cardinals act as important bodies fall to injury but the team keeps chugging along. Unfortunately, some of that has been spurred by human cockroach David Backes, who found his first two goals of the season last weekend. Against the Blackhawks, he’ll just try to run people into next week, so his scoring ability likely won’t be a factor. Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, Kevin Shattenkirk and others are sidelined, and superstar in the making Vladimir Tarasenko missed a game over the weekend. Tarasenko is pacing the team in points with 10, but Alexander Steen (9), former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer (8), Jori Lehtera (8) and newcomer Colton Parayko (7) have made fair contributions to pick up the slack.
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The Blues have fine forwards and defensemen, on the whole, though the blueline takes a pretty big hit with Shattenkirk out (he could be ready to play for this game). But the Blues have an identity crisis in net, as they can’t decide between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, neither of whom is that good. Elliott has the worse numbers (.908 save percentage, 2.18 goals-against average versus Allen’s .929 and 1.98) but the better record (4-0-0 versus 4-2-0), but Allen is the starter of late after playing well when Elliott went down with an illness. Regardless of who’s in net, if the Blackhawks can avoid the physical and mental mind games the Blues will try to play, they can shoot all day at Elliott or Allen and find plenty of ways to the twine.
Oct 31, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils congratulate New Jersey Devils goalieCory Schneider
(35) after the shot out in the NHL game at Prudential Center. The Devils won in a shoot out, 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Friday: Chicago Blackhawks at New Jersey Devils, 6 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
If there’s a game you want to miss this week, feel free to make it this one. The Devils are boring as all get-out, in spite of their better-than-expected start, and the Blackhawks really should roll over them. Doesn’t mean they will, but they should.
New Jersey has a slightly better record than the Blackhawks at this point, going 6-4-1 through 11 games for one more point than Chicago. Cory Schneider was pretty much the goaltender without any support early in his time in New Jersey, and that’s still the case in 2015-16. His numbers are entirely respectable, though far from great (.919, 2.17), but there isn’t a whole lot going on in front of him offensively. Mike Cammalleri is playing well ahead of his annual injury, leading the team with 11 points. Adam Henrique has also been solid with nine points, while Travis Zajac and offseason acquisition Kyle Palmieri have found some chemistry to combine for 14 points so far.
Andy Greene and Adam Larsson lead the blue line here, and that’s all you really need to know. This is a very exploitable defensive group, and the Blackhawks’ young speedy forwards should be able to carve it up. Schneider may have to stand on his head, which isn’t too crazy a thought.
Oct 31, 2015; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalieCam Talbot
(33) makes a save as Calgary Flames right wingMichael Frolik
(67) tries to score during the third period at Rexall Place. Calgary Flames won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday: Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks, 7 p.m. (WGN, NHL Network)
My parents will be attending this game at the United Center, so I really hope the Blackhawks can pull this one out. Also, because it’s the Oilers. No more 9-2 crap or Sam Gagner crap. This will be our first good look at Connor McDavid, who to my knowledge has not yet asked for a trade out of Edmonton. He’s tied for first on the team in goals (5) and second in assists (7) and points (12), tied with or behind Taylor Hall in all categories. McDavid’s arrival has been quite the boost for another first-round pick in Nail Yakupov, who is third on the team in points with 10 while lining up alongside McDavid. Hall is still a stud, as is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (9 points).
Again, it’s the blue line and goaltending that’s exploitable on this team, which, despite the success of some of its forwards, is just 4-8-0 in a weak Pacific Division. Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne are the top two defensemen here, and while youngsters like Darnell Nurse could certainly develop as Edmonton’s forwards have, they aren’t there yet. Cam Talbot, who had such a good season backing up Henrik Lundqvist in New York that he earned a starting job somewhere else, has been bad with an .897 save percentage and 2.88 goals-against average. He’ll have to be better or the Oil won’t be trending upward, no matter how good their offense can be.
So, what do we get from all of this? If the Blackhawks can pull off a 3-0-1 or 3-1-0 week, that’d be just fine. New Jersey and Edmonton should be gimmes (though the Blackhawks can’t treat them this way), and while you’d like to beat two tough in-conference teams in L.A. and St. Louis, splitting the games wouldn’t be the end of the world. But the Blackhawks are plenty capable of taking at least a point from every game this week.
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