In an 82-game regular season, individual contests sometimes get lost and overlooked. When the Chicago Blackhawks head into Dallas tonight to play the Stars, it will be a game that no ‘Hawks fan should overlook.
Last time the Stars hosted the Blackhawks, in the only other meeting of the teams so far this season, the Blackhawks were shut out 4-0 in December. The ‘Hawks looked flat, dead and like a team that would easily lose in the first round of the playoffs. They only had 20 shots get through to Antti Niemi, and it was probably the worst game all season for the defense.
After that result, the Stars were the best team in the league with a record of 26-7-2, and the ‘Hawks were third in the Central with the record of 20-12-4. Since that game, the ‘Hawks have gone 15-4-0 and skyrocketed to three points ahead the Stars, as Dallas hit a rough patch and went 7-7-3 to fall to second in the Central. Currently, the Stars have three games in hand over the ‘Hawks, so this will be an important game for the ‘Hawks to try and make their point lead larger.
The Stars are coming off of a 4-3 overtime win in Colorado on Thursday, in which they got goals from Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Jason Demers and John Klingberg. The story and philosophy of this team has been the same all year: speed and skill. When you have the best forward line in hockey, you are going to put up some league-leading numbers, for sure. The Stars are first in the league this season in goals for with 171. That comes out to an average of 3.29 goals per game.
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The leading scorer of this potent Stars team is Jamie Benn with 28 goals and 30 assists. Three points behind him sits Tyler Seguin. Those two stars are on the best line in hockey with former ‘Hawk Patrick Sharp, who has 16 goals and 24 assists. So it is clear Sharp is the grizzly veteran on this line who helps out the two “kids” by opening ice and dishing the puck over to them for goals. Altogether, this line has 153 points, which is actually the exact amount of points that the Blackhawks’ second line has. So something’s got to give.
The next-best scorer on the team is Spezza, and he centers the second line with 40 points. But in the Stars’ last game, Spezza was forced to leave the game with an upper-body injury, and he was placed on injured reserve late Friday, so that will definitely help the ‘Hawks as Cody Eakin will likely step up to take over centering duties on the second line. He has 23 points on the season and has a 47.8 faceoff win percentage, compared to Artem Anisimov‘s percentage of 44 as the Blackhawks’ second-line center.
The defense of the Stars is nothing too special, but still a group of blueliners that should not be taken lightly. Their best defenseman is the young Klingberg. He has 43 points this season, with 35 of them being from assists. He is probably one of the best young blueliners in the game, behind Erik Karlsson up in Ottawa. Klingberg is a fast young skater who loves to push the puck up to his forwards, and has a 55 percent Corsi-for rating. Honestly, I could go on and on singing Klingberg’s praises, but alas, let’s look at the rest of the blue line.
Dallas has 139 goals against this season, which puts them 18th in the league in that category. The defensemen will not go around trying to hit opponents, as they have very below-average hit numbers. But that makes sense since the first priority of this team is to just skate circles around players on the ice. The top four defensemen have plus/minus ratings above 15.
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As for the ‘Hawks, they are coming off of an exciting game in Arizona in which they beat the Coyotes 5-4. The ‘Hawks had offense from Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Michal Rozsival (yes, he actually scored) and two goals from Jonathan Toews. Joel Quenneville also lost his damn mind on a disallowed goal that did look to be a pretty bad call from a group of officials that, according to Pat Foley, was pretty inexperienced coming into the game.
Corey Crawford has hit a rough patch as of late, letting up eight goals in his last three games. It looks like his streak of deciding to stand on his head during games is over, but that can easily be turned around. However, it might be a tall task to get back to his top form against a team like the Stars. If it were any team other than the Dallas Stars, I would say that Q should start Scott Darling, but he really should not do that against Dallas. So, that will be an interesting storyline to follow tonight.
A big part of this Blackhawks offense has been Toews and Hossa playing great hockey as of late. They have combined for 25 shots on goal in the Blackhawks’ past five games. They have emerged on the top line, which is great considering that Hossa was pretty much considered dead at some points earlier this season.
The probables in net for this game are Antti Niemi (20-9-5) who has a .910 save percentage while allowing about 2.46 goals per game, and Crawford (30-12-2), who has a .930 save percentage while allowing 2.15 goals per game.
The puck drops at the American Airlines Center at 7 p.m. The game will be nationally broadcasted on NHL Network, but will be on WGN in Chicago and, as always, 720 WGN through the radio. Go ‘Hawks!