Nov 28, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Dallas Stars forwardJamie Benn
(14) and Minnesota Wild defensemanJonas Brodin
(25) battle in front of goalieDarcy Kuemper
(35) during the third period at Xcel Energy Center. The Stars win 4-3 over the Wild in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
Tuesday: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks, 7 p.m. (CSN Chicago, NBC Sports Network)
The Blackhawks get their third nationally televised game in the last four when we revisit a Western Conference semifinal matchup of the last two seasons. The Wild, as discussed earlier in this post, have hit the skids of late. A large reason for that has been their goaltending, as Devan Dubnyk has taken his sizable contract earned in the offseason and belly-flopped on it. Dubnyk has started all but three of the Wild’s games so far, and while he has three shutouts, he’s also carrying a .909 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average. Those numbers won’t be good enough for Minnesota to make a consistent impact in the Central.
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The scoring has been balanced, if not underwhelming. Eight players have at least 10 points, with Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter leading the way at 20 apiece. However, of their 40 combined points, 33 are the result of assists. Only one Wild has double-digit goals, that being Thomas Vanek at 10 (with 9 assists). Jason Zucker, who has proven he will be a bear to deal with in the future, isn’t off to the hottest of starts either at 6 goals and 8 assists through 22 outings. And Jason Pominville just scored his first goal of the season last week, to go against 10 assists.
The interesting thing is, many of the Wild players have high shooting percentages (above 10 percent) despite not scoring many goals. This would indicate they don’t take a ton of shots per game, which is confirmed by war-on-ice.com. The Wild have the second fewest shots per game at 26.4, but they also have the fourth-highest on-ice shooting percentage at 10.7 percent. So the Wild don’t hit the net a lot, but they make their shots count.
While Kane owned the Wild in last season’s playoffs, a more-balanced effort would benefit the Blackhawks against Minnesota this time. If the defense can be shored up to prevent what few chances Minnesota might have, then the Blackhawks just need to fire as many shots as possible at Dubnyk, who hasn’t been lights-out so far, as he was much of the second half of last season.
Nov 28, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ottawa Senators goalieCraig Anderson
(41) makes a save during the third period against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Thursday: Chicago Blackhawks at Ottawa Senators, 6:30 p.m. (CSN Chicago)
This is an odd place for this game, as the Blackhawks are just coming off a six-game road trip. But the game had to be played at some point, I suppose. The Senators are off to a bizarre start this season. Within the Atlantic Division, they’re tied with Buffalo at nine regulation/overtime wins. Buffalo is in seventh of eight teams in the Atlantic at 10-12-2. Ottawa is in second at 12-6-5. The Senators have benefited greatly from their five overtime losses and three won shootouts. They’re one of just two teams with more than five shootouts this season (Toronto is the other), and the Blackhawks haven’t played in one yet. So maybe we break the ice Thursday.
This is the first time we’ll see the Senators in person this season, but you should know offhand who’s leading their charge. Defenseman Erik Karlsson is tied for third in the league with 21 assists — second among defensemen behind only Dallas’ John Klingberg — and is also defensively stout to boot. The 2012 and 2015 Norris Trophy winner is very likely to see a lot of Kane, especially with Ottawa able to dictate matchups.
Four other guys have 20 or more points already as well, with Bobby Ryan finding his stroke again and Mike Hoffman posting a solid sophomore season. Kyle Turris is tops on the Sens in goals with 11. But after you get through the top six forwards and the top defensemen, things fall straight off a cliff for Ottawa. The Senators have a lot of guys who are more worried about making a big hit than hitting the back of the net. Some stats for you:
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Cody Ceci: 5 points, 12 penalty minutes
Zack Smith: 7 points, 28 penalty minutes
Marc Methot: 4 points, 18 penalty minutes
Alex Chiasson: 4 points, 21 penalty minutes
Patrick Wiercioch: 3 points, 16 penalty minutes
Mark Borowiecki: 1 point, 36 penalty minutes
Chris Neil: 3 points, 75 penalty minutes
How exactly does one even attain 75 penalty minutes in just 23 games? The Blackhawks are sure to find out Thursday.
In net, Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond is day-to-day, but Craig Anderson has been drawing most of the starts anyway. He’s fared decently with 10 wins and a .916 save percentage, but he’d surely like his 2.78 goals-allowed average to shrink.
This game will be a chance for the Blackhawks’ bottom six to shine, as the Senators’ bottom six will likely try to grind them out to make it a battle of top-six units. If there were ever a time for Coach Q to get his lines straight, this would be it.
Nov 28, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wingJarome Iginla
(12) and Winnipeg Jets left wingAdam Lowry
(17) begin to fight in the second period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday: Winnipeg Jets at Chicago Blackhawks, 4 p.m. (WGN)
Another 4 p.m. start, but this one is on a true weekend day. The Jets’ goaltending woes have pretty much stalled any chance they had of making a serious run in the Central. Ondrej Pavelec wasn’t very good early on, and then he strained his knee. He’ll be out until January or February. Michael Hutchinson hasn’t been much better with a .901 save percentage and 3.09 goals-allowed average in 11 starts. Connor Hellebuyck is the backup for now, and he had a solid NHL debut at Minnesota last week. Perhaps the Blackhawks see him Sunday, even though Hutchinson has historically given the Blackhawks fits. The Jets won the only other game of the season between these teams, 3-1 in Winnipeg on Oct. 29.
The porous goaltending and team defense has made some fine offensive starts for the Jets almost irrelevant. Blake Wheeler is averaging a point per game with 9 goals and 16 assists, while Bryan Little also has 9 goals and 20 points. Former Blackhawks Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien have 16 and 15 points, respectively, and there’s no doubt someone in the UC nosebleeds will be pining for the days of Byfuglien at some point during Sunday’s game. Mathieu Perreault has been an assist machine with 14 in 25 games, while newcomer Nikolaj Ehlers has made a flashy impact with 11 points.
We know the Jets’ game plan against the Blackhawks: pound them into dust. If the Blackhawks can avoid the extracurriculars and display solid passing to get the Jets out of position, then their work will be 75 percent finished, especially with the trouble the Jets have had preventing goals.
Coming off a grinding circus trip, this is a nice week for the Blackhawks — on paper. The Minnesota game can be a trap, as we saw when the Blackhawks visited San Jose. The Sharks were coming off a lengthy road trip but came out pretty flat in their return home. The Blackhawks will want to avoid that fate Tuesday. From there, the Blackhawks will try to utilize their speed and talent to overwhelm Ottawa and Winnipeg. I can imagine this being a five-point week for the Blackhawks, with the Senators potentially taking the Blackhawks to their first shootout this season. Six points is, of course, the ultimate goal, and it’s certainly attainable here.