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3 Chicago Blackhawks To Watch In Senators Country

By Colin Likas
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Two days after the Chicago Blackhawks missed out on their first decent opportunity of the week to earn two points, they’ll try again when they visit the Ottawa Senators tonight.

After coming close to taking nine of 12 points on the six-game circus trip, the Blackhawks returned home with a thud, as the San Jose Sharks did last week against the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane extended his consecutive games with a point streak to 20, but his powerplay goal was the only damage Chicago could create against Devan Dubnyk and a previously iffy Minnesota defense/goaltending unit.

Now they’ll quickly hit the road again, before once more returning to the United Center. The quirks of the NHL schedule can really throw teams for a loop during a long, 82-game regular season, but it seemed as though the Blackhawks were gaining at least a little traction on the road as the circus trip concluded. So maybe getting out of Chicago will benefit the men in the Indian Head. It also helps that Ottawa is really a so-so outfit despite holding third place in its division.

On to the projected lineups, starting with … ugh. We’ll start with the Blackhawks.

Andrew ShawJonathan ToewsRyan Garbutt

Artemi PanarinArtem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Marko Dano-Marcus KrugerMarian Hossa

Brandon MashinterTanner KeroTeuvo Teravainen

Duncan KeithNiklas Hjalmarsson

Trevor van RiemsdykBrent Seabrook

Trevor DaleyMichal Rozsival

Corey CrawfordScott Darling

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I’m going to try to stay calm when talking about this lineup, which continues to get rolled out for reasons unknown. As BlackhawkUp writer Keith Schultz said yesterday, Joel Quenneville needs to take his line blender out of commission for a while, but it’d be nice if he put an offensively capable lineup together beforehand. This is not an offensively capable lineup.

While the second line will continue to be great, Toews will continue to struggle with no playmakers around him, instead trying to feed the puck to a pair of guys who biff about 80 percent of Toews’ feeds. Hossa and Dano will try to have offensive chemistry around a defense-oriented center. And Eddie Olczyk will continue to publicly complain about Teuvo’s lack of offensive production despite the fact he’s playing alongside a useless Mashinter (for five minutes a night) and a young center in Kero who has been utilized more for defensive/penalty-killing purposes.

Just because this lineup had a nice night in San Jose doesn’t mean it has to stay together forever. That same lineup turned around and laid an egg in Anaheim, despite the result, and was generally bad against L.A., again despite the result. And then it totally fell asleep at home against Minnesota, but Quenneville was willing to chalk that up as a symptom of the first game home off a long road trip … despite the fact he was mixing up his lines by game’s end to get some offensive production.

Q can’t have it both ways, and if he wants to see his team win, he needs to ice a winning foursome of forward lines. Would you take this line to a Stanley Cup Final battle? Hell no. Just because it’s the regular season doesn’t mean a crappy lineup should be deployed on the basis of, “Well, it worked that one time.”

Anyway, let’s move on to the Senators before I start throwing things.

Mike HoffmanKyle TurrisBobby Ryan

Shane PrinceJean-Gabriel PageauMark Stone

Curtis LazarZack SmithAlex Chiasson

Colin GreeningChris NeilMark Borowiecki

Marc MethotErik Karlsson

Jared CowenCody Ceci

Chris WidemanPatrick Wiercioch

Craig AndersonChris Driedger

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This is a somewhat-banged-up Ottawa team, with Clarke MacArthur, Milan Michalek, Chris Phillips and Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond all sidelined before Tuesday. Then, Mika Zibanejad suffered an injury as a result of an illegal check to the head by Philadelphia’s Radko Gudas on Tuesday, which netted Gudas a three-game ban. Zibanejad will not play tonight, resulting in defenseman Borowiecki slotting in on a fourth-line wing role, similar to what Q would do with Sheldon Brookbank in the past. Borowiecki probably won’t see a ton of time at forward tonight, considering he hasn’t played at forward since college.

But Ottawa still has some solid offensive weapons on its top two lines, and with two-time Norris Trophy winner Karlsson on the blue line. The Sens are averaging 3.13 goals per game, fifth among all teams (for reference, the Blackhawks are at 2.72, 13th in the league). In goal, Anderson has been alright, posting a .915 save percentage but a relatively high 2.80 goals-against mark.

Despite this, I’m not all that intimidated by the Senators at this point in the season. Beyond the fact they’re missing some pieces due to injury, they’re currently taking the Florida Panthers route to qualifying for the playoffs — AKA they’re racking up a boatload of one-point nights through overtime losses and shootout wins/losses. They’ve lost five games in extra time and have gone to a shootout six times, recording a 3-3 mark there. While it’s good to take the points any way you can get them, it can provide a misleading look at a squad. After you get past the top two lines and top defensive pairing, there isn’t much to see. Of course, the Blackhawks are essentially a one-line, one-and-a-half pairing team right now, so …

Let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch tonight in Ottawa, where the Senators are just 5-4-4 on the season.

Dec 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) and Minnesota Wild defenseman

Jared Spurgeon

(46) fight for the puck during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Kruger

When Kruger isn’t asked to pretend to be an offensive center, he’ll likely see a good amount of Karlsson looking to score from the blue line. To be fair, that could be said for most of the Blackhawks tonight, as Karlsson is third in the league in average time on ice at 27:09 (behind only Drew Doughty at 27:21 and Ryan Suter at 28:06). But Kruger will be one of the key guys asked to go out and break up Karlsson’s passing and shooting lanes. Karlsson has 21 assists among his team-leading 26 points, so he does a good job of setting up his forwards for success. A constantly moving Kruger with an active stick could really disrupt what Karlsson is able to do on the offensive end, and if Kruger remains on the ice most of the game with Dano and Hossa, it could send those two the other way with offensive opportunities. Regardless of how any Kruger-based line looks at the end of the game, though, his defense will be critical to any Chicago success tonight.

Jun 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing

Ondrej Palat

(18) looks for the puck against Chicago Blackhawks players Duncan Keith (2) , Corey Crawford (50) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) in game five of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Duncan Keith/Niklas Hjalmarsson

Cheating a bit here, but these two have to come in a package for what I’m about to discuss. These two are asked to take on the toughest assignments for the Blackhawks, and they struggled with that task against Minnesota. The pairing was on the ice for both goals against and didn’t look particularly great defending against either attack. On the first, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville were both able to set up below the crease and behind the defensive pairing, getting plenty of whacks in at Crawford as he tried to handle a point shot from Jared Spurgeon. Neither Granlund nor Pominville faced a whole lot of resistance, as Hjalmarsson had to handle them both alone with Keith on the opposite side of the net. On the second goal, Minnesota’s stretch passing set up a chance for which Hjalmarsson was well behind the action — a result of getting up too high to cut off a Zach Parise pass attempt — while Keith was sort of a spectator once the action hit Crawford. Crow was pretty strong with a .944 save percentage, and it probably would’ve been a perfect 1.000 with a little defensive help. Especially when the offense is sputtering, Keith and Hjalmarsson need to step up on the blue line.

Dec 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) and Minnesota Wild defenseman

Jonas Brodin

(25) fight for the puck during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Artem Anisimov

I have a good feeling about Anisimov tonight. He’s being used in all situations, having recorded a plethora of stats against Minnesota — 2 shots, 1 hit, 2 takeaways, 3:45 powerplay time, 2:19 shorthanded time. But he was also just 43 percent at the dot and carried a minus-1 rating. Opposing teams know the Blackhawks are pretty much rolling one offensively-capable line at this point, and they’re figuring out how to attack it when that line gets stuck on defense. That’s where Anisimov comes in. Panarin isn’t the most sound defender, and Kane is capable but not on Anisimov’s level defensively. So there’s two things I’m looking for from Anisimov tonight: more success at the dot and more leadership in helping his line shut down an opponent’s offensive attack. Both of these would help from offensive and defensive standpoints, and for a unit that’s seeing a ton of ice time, it’s crucial he succeeds in these areas on a nightly basis.

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