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3 Chicago Blackhawks To Watch Against Eichel’s Sabres

By Colin Likas
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Ah, the afternoon matinee. And what better game to put in this spot than the Chicago Blackhawks against … the Buffalo Sabres? Well, at least it should still get a fair number of TVs tuned in at both cities.

Buffalo is in the first year of seeing how its rebuilding process will look moving forward. So far, the returns aren’t amazing. They have 31 points in 33 games and sit in second to last in the Atlantic Division. Of course, they’ve dealt with a fair number of injuries — chief among them losing starting goaltender Robin Lehner a few minutes into the season. The Sabres are a minus-9 in goal differential, but they just haven’t produced a ton offensively.

For the Blackhawks, getting a road win in this spot would be … nice, to say the least. The Sabres are just 8-9-1 at home, but Chicago has the second-worst road record among teams that aren’t in the Pacific Division (Toronto leads that category, but not by much). The Blackhawks have spent a large portion of December at home, and they need to build up some road confidence ahead of their next trip, which … kind of begins later this month? The Blackhawks don’t have a three-game trip until mid-January, so they’re quite lucky in that respect.

Let’s look at the projected lineups for today’s game, starting with the Blackhawks.

Teuvo TeravainenJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Artemi PanarinArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane

Bryan BickellDennis RasmussenAndrew Shaw

Andrew DesjardinsPhillip DanaultRyan Garbutt

Trevor van RiemsdykDuncan Keith

Niklas HjalmarssonBrent Seabrook

Rob ScuderiMichal Rozsival

Corey CrawfordScott Darling

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Danault will make his season debut with the Blackhawks tonight in place of Marcus Kruger, who is expected to be out up to four months after dislocating his wrist Thursday against Edmonton. Danault is coming off offseason hip surgery and played in just six games in Rockford this season, but he’s been preparing for a shot with the Blackhawks for several seasons prior. Should be fun to see how he meshes with Desjardins and Garbutt (please not Brandon Mashinter).

Everything else stays the same, as the first line seeks another big game and the second line seeks to get back into destruction mode. The third line is just looking for those ugly goals, which is exactly what we want. The 30-somethings defensive pairing gets another shot at some young talent, so we’ll see how that turns out.

Crawford gets the call on the front end of a back-to-back, so it’d make sense Darling starts tomorrow against San Jose. Crow has three shutouts in his last four games, which obviously hasn’t stopped people on social media from saying, “Well he did suck.” Whatever.

On to the Sabres.

Jamie McGinn-Ryan O’Reilly-Sam Reinhart

Evander KaneJack EichelTyler Ennis

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonBrian Gionta

Matt MoulsonDavid LegwandNicolas Deslauriers

Josh GorgesRasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabeZach Bogosian

Mike WeberCody Franson

Chad JohnsonLinus Ullmark

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There are certainly some familiar names on this list, while others may be off your radar. A couple names you should readily identify are those of Eichel and Reinhart, the 2015 and 2014 first-round draft picks of the Sabres, respectively. They’re both among the top five in points on this team, but for a squad that doesn’t score much, that means they have 15 and 14 points, respectively. After crashing his truck into a Tim Hortons during the offseason, O’Reilly is pacing this outfit with 28 points, and Ristolainen is a solid offensive contributor from the blue line with 24 points.

Speaking of the blue line, it has some alright pieces, but nothing to set the world on fire. Weber and Franson are the only ones above water in Corsi-for percentage (57.65 and 50.40, respectively), and you know they’re taking on weaker competition. Buffalo is middle of the pack in shots allowed per game at 28.1, so this adds up to a pretty good situation for the Blackhawks offensively.

Johnson appears likely to start for the Sabres today. Johnson has been better than Ullmark in Lehner’s steed, nearly splitting his results (9-9-1) and hoisting a fair .918 save percentage and 2.33 goals-allowed average.

Let’s move on to three Blackhawks to watch today.

Phillip Danault

You make your Blackhawks debut, you get a spot on this rundown. Danault won’t be asked to be exactly like Kruger … but he’ll be asked to be 98 percent like Kruger. Danault has a little more offensive upside, but he’s been training in Rockford for this opportunity. He’s one of the Blackhawks’ top prospects, and this will be just his third game with the big club. While it’s not at the United Center, he’s getting a pretty easy open as far as atmosphere. There shouldn’t be too much in Buffalo to get him psyched out. If he stays within himself and doesn’t overthink his actions, especially when making a defensive play, he’s going to do just fine here. Defensive responsibility is always key for Joel Quenneville, and that’s doubly apparent for Danault in taking Kruger’s checking-line center spot. Any offense the kid provides is a bonus, but there will probably be some to come. Today? We’ll see.

Dec 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) circles behind Colorado Avalanche goalie

Semyon Varlamov

(1) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Bickell

Since being recalled from Rockford prior to the Dec. 11 game against Winnipeg, Bickell has been entirely serviceable and pretty noticeable (in good ways) for the Blackhawks. It hasn’t resulted in a goal just yet — his closest chances was vultured by linemate Rasmussen — but I think he gets the job done today. The weak Buffalo defense will be looking at this third line with far less concern than Chicago’s top two lines, and I think that’ll give the dirty-goal trio a chance to make something happen. Look for Bickell to stuff home a feed from Shaw or Rasmussen while crashing Johnson’s doorstep. It’d be a big momentum swing for Bickell, and for the third line, if this were to happen, especially on the road.

Dec 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) tries to score against Edmonton Oilers defenseman

Brandon Davidson

(88) during the first period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Marian Hossa

The guy had two primary assists and a secondary assist Thursday against Edmonton and is carrying a 5.10 season shooting percentage into this game. I’m keeping it simple: Hossa will break out today, starting a hot run for the offense’s elder statesman.

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