Chicago Blackhawks Look To Stay Hot Against Sabres

Dec 19, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) makes a pad save on a shot by Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) during the third period at First Niagara Center. Blackhawks beat the Sabres 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) makes a pad save on a shot by Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) during the third period at First Niagara Center. Blackhawks beat the Sabres 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Blackhawks will be back in action tonight in a non-conference matchup with the Buffalo Sabres. Right now, the Blackhawks are the last opponent that a team like the Sabers wants to face. The ‘Hawks have won five of their last six, outscoring their opponents by a margin of 20-11 during that stretch. The Buffalo Sabres, on the other end, have lost five straight games, being outscored by a margin of 16-7. With both teams off Thursday night, the Blackhawks and the Sabres will be well rested and ready to fight for two more points.

This is the second and final meeting this season between these two teams this season, barring a very unlikely Stanley Cup Final matchup. The first game between them came on December 19, where the Blackhawks won in a shootout, 3-2. Dennis Rasmussen and Patrick Kane had the goals for the ‘Hawks, and Cody Franson and Ryan O’Reilly had the goals for the Sabres before Kane won it for the ’Hawks in the shootout.

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The story of the Sabres is a team that has a lot of talent through its top four or five offensive players, but not getting the results it would want. For example, their first line of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart has three talented skaters and shooters, but not the stat sheet to back it up. O’Reilly is the team’s top scorer with 16 goals and 18 assists, while the other two on the line have less that 20 points apiece. And this lack of scoring has resulted in them only having 92 goals on the year, which puts them in 28th place in that category league-wide.

Go one line deeper on the Sabers and you’ll find the best rookie this season in the NHL: Jack Eichel. This will be his first trip to the United Center for him. On the season he has 13 goals and 13 assists, with a +/- rating of -8, but you can chalk that one up to the lack of a defensive presence on this team. He has 12 points in the last eight games, and has been the reason why the Sabers are scoring at all. Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly are really the only players on this team that can take a bite out of the ‘Hawks, so they will have to focus on shutting them down.

On the back end for the Sabres, they really do not have much that can stop the Blackhawks’ red-hot offense right now. Their only good blue liner is Rasmusen Ristolainen, and he is more of a forward than a D-man anyway. One of those players like Erik Karlsson for the Sens, but Karlsson is also a bona fide defenseman. Buffalo’s top blueliners all have a plus/minus rating below minus-5, as well as negative Corsi numbers, so this is not a defense that is exactly going to stonewall the ‘Hawks.

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As for the ‘Hawks, not much too complain about as of late. The second line is producing once again, the third line has even been scoring, particularly Andrew Desjardins who has come on as of late. He has five points in as many games, and his linemates Phillip Danault and Teuvo Teravainen have been playing good hockey.

The defense is still bad, but that will not change until the front office makes a move. However, I do think Erik Gustafsson is starting to get his footing a bit and, who knows, maybe down the line he’ll turn into a nice commodity.

If I have one complaint about the ‘Hawks right now it would be this: Andrew Shaw. He has been on Joel Quenneville’s good side for the past month or so, so he got the spot on the first line over Teuvo, who was a good fit for the first line before Shaw took it over.

In my opinion, Shaw needs to be shipped out immediately. He only has the rest of this season left before he become a restricted free agent. Get him out of Chicago; he is terrible. Why is it that whenever I look up he is falling or sliding all over the ice? Probably because he is trying to play that “gritty” type hockey where he is in everyone’s face and opposing players hate him. That’s all well and good, but if you want to play like that you shouldn’t be trying to stick handle and do pretty plays in the neutral zone, but that is exactly what Shaw does, then he turns over the puck and falls down. Seriously, in this game against Buffalo, let’s count how many time Shaw falls on the ice or turns the puck over in the neutral zone. The unofficial over/under is set at 4.5. In order for Shaw to be effective, he needs to stand in front of the net and stay there. When he does that, he is pretty solid. But he has not been doing that lately, so he has been looking silly on the top line.

However, until the third line starts to cool down a little bit, Q cannot put Desjardins or Teuvo on the first line, since he needs to get all the production he can from that line while it’s hot. So once the third line hits a rough patch, I think it is time to throw Shaw back down there and bring up either Desjardins or Teuvo to rejuvenate the first line a bit, as it has not been doing much as of late.

The goalie matchup will be All-Star snub Corey Crawford (I never thought I would say that before) and Chad Johnson for the Sabres. Johnson has played 25 games this season with a 10-11-2 record, with a save percentage of .914 and averaging 2.48 goals against per game. For Crawford, he got to rest on the tail end of the home-and-home series against Pittsburgh, so hopefully the extra couple days off don’t show in net. He has a 21-10-2 record with a save percentage of .925 and is averaging 2.22 goals against per game.

Let us know what you think about Shaw or anything else related to the Blackhawks in the comments, or connect with us on social media.

Puck drops at the lovely 7:30 start time Friday night, and can be seen on Comcast SportsNet locally, NHL Network nationally and as always on 720 WGN in the car. Go ‘Hawks.