Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks’ Week Ahead Prepares For The Holidays

By Colin Likas
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Dec 21, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Dallas Stars celebrate a goal by forward

Vernon Fiddler

(38) during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday: Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars, 7:30 p.m. (CSN Chicago)

This is the final first meeting of the season between the Blackhawks and a Central Division opponent. In this case, it’s the high-flying Stars, who haven’t done a whole lot of losing since acquiring Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, among others, in the offseason.

Those acquisitions haven’t been as important to Dallas as the play of three cornerstone players. Forwards Benn and Tyler Seguin have been close to unstoppable offensively. Seguin is sitting on 19 goals and 27 assists through 34 games, while Benn boasts 22 goals and 23 assists. Sharp, their linemate, is fourth on the team with 11 goals and 14 helpers. But Sharp isn’t the third cornerstone — that would be current Norris Trophy frontrunner (in my opinion) John Klingberg. He’s fourth in the league — and second among defensemen, behind Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson — in assists with 26 among his 31 points, and he’s among the league leaders in plus/minus at plus-14.

With all of that considered, the Stars and their followers have been able to ignore that the rest of their team — minus Jason Spezza — hasn’t lit the world on fire. Don’t take that to mean the rest of the group is bad, as that wouldn’t be true. The Stars currently have 14 players with 11 or more points (the Blackhawks currently have nine), so they’re getting some production through the lineup. But it’s clear the Benn-Seguin-Sharp line with Klingberg on the back end is carrying a heavy load so far.

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It’s supported a lackluster defensive unit and so-so goaltending. The Stars average about 3.5 goals per game, which ranks first in the league, but they’re also allowing about 2.5 per contest, 12th in the league and trailing four Central teams (Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota and Nashville). Next to and behind Klingberg is a whole lot of meh with the constantly overmatched Alex Goligoski, familiar face Oduya and guys like Jason Demers, Jordie Benn and the awesomely-named Jyrki Jokipakka. It’s an underwhelming group in general.

Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have made their timeshare goaltending situation work decently, but Niemi’s .912 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average leading the way is not optimal for the Stars long-term. On the bright side, the two keepers have combined for five assists this season.

The Stars will certainly use this matchup as a measuring stick, considering the Blackhawks are the defending Cup champions. The Blackhawks tend to step up for games like this, as they don’t want to be used in that manner. Whether or not that means Joel Quenneville will be making some shifts in the lineup, however, is anyone’s guess. This game should be a fun one.

Dec 21, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters (C) points from behind the bench during the third period against the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena. The Capitals won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday: Carolina Hurricanes at Chicago Blackhawks, 6 p.m. (WGN)

And on the other end of the fun spectrum, we have this one. The Hurricanes are once again bad, and there’s nothing about them that’s terribly fun to watch. The Canes are among the league’s bottomfeeders at 31 points through 34 games, and they could be another loss deeper after they take on New Jersey the day before this game.

Maybe the most interesting thing coming out of Carolina this season is Justin Faulk‘s powerplay success. The defenseman has 12 goals, and they’ve all come on the man advantage. Faulk leads the Canes in goals, assists (15) and shots on goal (102), but he also has a minus-11 rating. Victor Rask (no relation to Tuukka Rask) is the only other Cane with more than 20 points at 23 (9 goals, 14 assists).

Stalwarts like Eric Staal (19 points) and Jordan Staal (14 points) are still here, as is former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg (18). No doubt he’ll try to out-Kane Kane at some point during this game to prove the Blackhawks should have given him a 1-year, $7.5 million contract last offseason. Jeff Skinner is still underwhelming everyone here as well, though his 14 goals are tops on the club. Oh, and Michal Jordan is thankfully off injured reserve to allow Pat Foley to draw comparisons between him and former NBA star Michael Jordan.

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Cam Ward and Eddie Lack have to oversee this horror show in net, and neither of them has been able to help the situation. Ward leads the team with an ugly .900 save percentage and 2.56 goals-allowed average.

There’s something strange about the Canes though: They have the second-best Corsi-for percentage in all situations in the entire league at 54.7. They trail only the Los Angeles Kings (55.0), and they’re nearly three percentage points clear of the Blackhawks (51.9). So what’s the problem? They only score about 2.3 goals per game, and they allow about 2.9. So they aren’t converting on their chances, and their defense and goaltending can’t stop much of anything coming the other way. Pretty simple, really.

This should be a free couple of points for Chicago. Being the Blackhawks’ first game off a four-day break, and against an inferior opponent, we can expect it to be one you wouldn’t want to watch more than once.

It would be fantastic for the Blackhawks to start their season series with Dallas with a victory, putting the Stars in their place to a certain extent. If they can do that, it should be a four-point holiday week for Chicago.