Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Must Take Advantage Of Favorable Schedule

By Colin Likas
Dec 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) and Winnipeg Jets center Adam Lowry (17) go for the puck during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) and Winnipeg Jets center Adam Lowry (17) go for the puck during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /
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Tampa Bay Lightning

Now Tampa Bay, that’s an interesting story. Among the surprisingly bad teams in the East this season has been the Lightning so far. They’re in the Atlantic Division and not the Metropolitan, so they sit just five points out of a division playoff spot and three points out of a wild-card bid.

But they’ll need to perform a lot better to leapfrog all the teams in front of them. Nikita Kucherov is having a fantastic season with 42 points in 40 games, and Victor Hedman has also been good offensively (38 points in 44 games).

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But the Ning aren’t getting all they should be from guys like Tyler Johnson (26 points, minus-10 rating), Alex Killorn (22 points, minus-10 rating) and Ondrej Palat (22 points, minus-3 rating).

Of course, it’s easy to be surprisingly bad when two of your better players — Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan — have played just 17 and 18 games, respectively. Stamkos was averaging better than a point per game before suffering a knee injury that has kept him out indefinitely. The bottom six just hasn’t been the same with these two missing.

Making things worse for Tampa is its porous goaltending. Ben Bishop (.910/2.64) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (.906/2.90) haven’t stopped so much as a beach ball, and with key offensive pieces missing, it makes them very beatable.

So combine all these woes with Tampa being a mediocre 9-13-3 on the road, and you have a very beatable team. The Blackhawks need to get the Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane line on the ice as much as possible against the Lightning’s bottom six and send the top-four defenders flying at their top-two lines every chance. That combined with any sort of puck possession should net a win for Chicago.

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