After a couple days off and a flip of the calendar into 2016, the Chicago Blackhawks are back in action Sunday night against an Eastern Conference foe in the Ottawa Senators. The Senators have a record of 18-14-6 and sit 5th in the Atlantic Division, and two points out of a wild card spot in the east. With some fast forwards who love to put the puck in the net at an average of about three goals per game, the Blackhawks will have their hands full Sunday night.
It was announced that the Blackhawks will honor Patrick Kane, prior to the action, for his historic 26 game point streak. Kane was also announced the captain of the central division for the all-star game occurring at the end of January in Nashville. Kane joins the other divisional captains of Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr and John Scott. Remember him? He was that big awkward guy who played with the ‘Hawks for about a year and who always looked like he was not entirely sure how skating worked. Well now he is an all-star game captain and I for one cannot wait to see him in open ice for a 3-on-3 tournament.
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For the Senators in their last game, they got shutout 3-0 by the New Jersey Devils last Wednesday. Andrew Hammond was in net for the Senators, stopping 18 of 20 shots he faced.
This will be the second and last meeting of these two teams for this NHL campaign. The first meeting was in Ottawa on December 3rd, where the Senators won 4-3 in overtime. In that game, Mike Hoffman and Bobby tore the Balckhawks apart with three points each. This game was back when only the second line for the ‘Hawks was scoring, so the three goals were scattered throughout Panarin, Kane and Anisimov.
As for the game on Sunday night, the Balckhawks will need to find a way to neutralize this fast Senators offense, who sits 6th in the league with 111 goals for on the season. Their second line of Mike Hoffman, Mike Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan is a line that puts up numbers that could pass for the top line on other hockey teams. Mike Hoffman is the leading point getter for forwards on the team with 34 points on 18 goals. He is coming off of a month of December where he was averaging about a point a game, so he will look to continue that success in January.
Mark Stone and Kyle Turris on the top line of the Senators, have 31 and 28 points respectively. So clearly, this is a team that can easily go two lines deep with scoring, so depth on the offensive side of the ice for the Senators is not currently the issue.
For as how good the Senators have been with putting the puck in the net, they have been that bad at keeping the puck out of their net. They rank in the bottom 10 in the league in goals against and shots against. While it may be hard to believe, this Senators defense is even worse than the Blackhawks’ defensive group. The second defensive pairing of Patrick Wiercioch and Mike Borowiecki have no goals and a combined +/- rating of -8. What makes these stats even worse for them is that they have a combined average time on ice of about 16:20 per game. If this pairing is on the ice with Kane, Anisimov and Panarin, those three better be exploiting them all game long.
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The only bright spot in this Senators defensive group is the captain, Erik Karlsson. He is arguably one of the best defenseman in the league right now at the age of 25. He has nine goals and 32 assists while averaging 28 minutes per game. With that many assists, Karlsson is clearly a defenseman who loves to push the puck up the ice for stretch passes through the neutral zone. If the ‘Hawks want to put a stop to this, they will need to be aggressive on their forecheck, and not allow Karlsson to have the opportunity to connect with forwards like Mark Stone or Kyle Turris on long stretch passes.
As for the ‘Hawks, they are coming off of an over time win in Colorado, last year. (hahaha) In that game, the second line of Anisimov, Panarin and Kane was looking like the best line in hockey once again, as all three of them had two points, while Kane had three. Scott Darling was in net and did not look very good posting a .900 save percentage, stopping 27 shots on 30 shots faced.
After scoring 11 goals in their past two games, it is safe to say that the Blackhawks have found their offensive mojo once again. And with the defense that the Senators have, there is no reason why this high scoring trend should not continue Sunday night.
Crawford will be back in net for the Blackhawks who has a .923 save percentage, and 2.33 goals against average this season through 31 games. As for the Sens, they have not named a starter yet. However, considering that Hammond started their last game, and he has only played seven games this year, none of those games back to back, it is fair to assume that Senators head coach Dave Cameron will go back to Craig Anderson. Anderson has a save percentage of .917 and a goals against average of 2.82 through 30 games.
Puck drops at 6 p.m. and can be seen on Comcast Sportsnet locally, NHL Network nationally and 720 WGN on the radio. Go ‘Hawks.