Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks’ Week Ahead Has Playoff Flair

By Colin Likas
February 5, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry (10) moves the puck against Arizona Coyotes during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
February 5, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry (10) moves the puck against Arizona Coyotes during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /
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Feb 4, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Jose Sharks teammates celebrate defeating the St. Louis Blues 3-1 at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Tuesday: San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. (CSN Chicago)

There are only two teams in the Pacific that are in any way capable of running down Los Angeles for the division title. The Blackhawks will see both this week, starting with the Sharks. They’ve come on strong of late, earning points in eight of their last 10 outings to take the second spot in the Pacific, seven points behind Los Angeles. They’ve done it on the back of a stellar road record, as they’ve gone 17-8-2 away from the Shark Tank this season.

They also boast a pretty strong offense, with their 149 goals tied for third most in the Western Conference (tied with Colorado and behind only Chicago and Dallas). Joe Pavelski is having a top-15 Hart Trophy finish season, leading this team with a balanced 51 points (25 goals, 26 assists). He has eight powerplay goals and eight game-winning goals on an obscene 17.9 shooting percentage. Behind him are Joe Thornton, who’s sticking to his typical helper role, having acquired 33 of his 44 points by way of assist. And then there’s the mountain man, Brent Burns, as offensive a defenseman as there is right now. Though he holds a minus-13 rating, his 213 shots have led to 44 points, including six powerplay goals. The Sharks also have two other guys in the 30s in points, three more in the 20s and seven more in the teens, so this team has some scoring balance.

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It also has a potent powerplay, with San Jose’s 22.1 percent success rate behind only Boston and Washington in terms of success. Thirteen different Sharks have at least one powerplay strike this season, so it’s best not to take an abundance of penalties, something the Blackhawks have failed miserably at doing their last two games.

Martin Jones backstops this unit in his first season as a full-time starter. He began the campaign strong but is currently average at best, posting a .913 save percentage and 2.43 goals-allowed average. The Blackhawks have plucked him for nine goals in two games this season, so they’ve certainly shown a penchant for beating him.

This is the last regular-season meeting between these teams, and the story here is simple: Get a lot of pucks at the net and stay out of the penalty box. San Jose has a bit of balance to its forwards, but the defense is relatively weak. If this turns into a shootout, the Blackhawks are far more likely to win it — as evidenced by their 9-5 edge in scoring in the previous two games between these teams, both Chicago wins.

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Feb 6, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars center Cody Eakin (20) stretches for the puck during the second period against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

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

Time for another statement game … or something. Really, it’s just another regular-season game. But you know the Stars will come in wanting to do to the Blackhawks what was done to them Saturday: crush the opponent in its home arena. So this one could get nasty.

I don’t need to spend much time breaking down the Stars, as their setup is well known: impressive offense, unreliable defense, terrible goaltending. We saw all three of those aspects Saturday, but Corey Crawford was up to the challenge to keep the first point from getting much going. Dallas permitted two shorthanded goals while Antti Niemi was pulled after 20 minutes and three goals allowed. Kari Lehtonen couldn’t stem the tide, either. This is what’s going to hold the Stars back, as their defense, while still suspect, is improving. Their offense is obviously good, so the plan must be to score eight goals in each playoff game. Probably not realistic.

Jamie Benn (59 points), Tyler Seguin (56) and Patrick Sharp (40) still make up the most prolific offensive line in the league, with John Klingberg (43) a future Norris Trophy winner (in theory) on the blue line behind them. They have 15 guys with 12 or more points, though Jason Spezza (40) is out for the foreseeable future with a head injury, leaving Cody Eakin to man second-line center. Shutting down the Stars’ top line isn’t the whole job, but it’s a big portion, and the Blackhawks mostly succeeded in that Saturday. Any team that is able to do it against the Stars in the playoffs will have a big advantage.

With last change, Joel Quenneville can keep the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival/Rob Scuderi away from that trio, which means it comes down to being smart for the Blackhawks. Make simple plays, and make them well as they did in Dallas, and they’re a step closer to winning. Stay out of the box, and that’s another big step. The Stars will definitely try to goad the Blackhawks into silly penalties (despite the two shorties last time), and they (Andrew Shaw) need to be at their most disciplined. Once the puck gets on Niemi or Lehtonen, the Blackhawks have a decisive edge.

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February 5, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen (31) celebrates the 5-2 victory against Arizona Coyotes Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Saturday: Anaheim Ducks at Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. (WGN, NHL Network)

There’s a scene in the Adam Sandler golf-comedy movie “Happy Gilmore” in which Happy makes a long putt, turns to Shooter McGavin and says, “Happy learned how to putt. Uh oh.” That’s what it feels like with the Ducks and their offense of late.

Their previously-horrific offense has come alive during a six-game win streak, tallying three or more goals in all six wins. They put up four spots on the Kings and Red Wings, a five-spot on Arizona and six goals on Boston. Yet they still have the fewest goals in the league at 113, which tells you how bad things were before this recent stretch.

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Corey “Lord Voldemort” Perry is still the only guys with anything resembling impressive numbers, and his 21 goals and 14 assists still aren’t very impressive. Ryan Getzlaf tallied his first 5-on-5 goal of the season the same night Rozsival tallied his first, which is utterly hilarious. But Getzlaf is still second on this team with 34 points, based largely on his 30 assists. Rickard Rakell and Sami Vatanen are two of the top five scorers on this team, so to say the offense hasn’t been there this season is an understatement. The defense is also mostly bad, as any group hoping a duo of Cam Fowler and Kevin Bieksa will shut down the opposition’s top players probably isn’t going far in the postseason.

So how is Anaheim in third in the Pacific Division, just eight points back of the leading Kings? Besides the Pacific being as bad as Anaheim’s offense, the goaltending has been strong. Both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson have dealt with injuries this season, but they’re boasting save percentages of .918 and .923 with goals-allowed averages of 2.35 and 1.92. It’s a solid enough 1-2 punch in goal to keep Anaheim rolling even when the offense can’t provide much support.

The Blackhawks are familiar with a lot of these guys, having played against them in the Western Conference finals. The strategy hasn’t changed much for the Ducks, as they’ll still try the “no human can withstand that many hits” strategy that village idiot Ryan Kesler made famous, and the Blackhawks will absorb the pressure, make smart plays and leave it up to Anaheim’s goaltender to stop whatever is coming. And not many opposing goaltenders have been able to stop what the Blackhawks have thrown this season.

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