The Chicago Blackhawks face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7:30 CT tonight at home. Columbus, currently 32-21-3, will not be an easy match up.
The Chicago Blackhawks need every point they can get at this point in the season if they wish to make the playoffs. Taking two against the Columbus Blue Jackets is possible, but it won’t be easy. That said, here’s 3 keys to staying in the win column.
1 – Win the special teams battle
This isn’t an original or ground breaking aspect of the game for any hockey team to focus on. Still, it will be a difference maker in this game.
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The Chicago Blackhawks power play has been on fire recently. As a result, it’s helped them to climb to 14th in the NHL in PP%. What was once a liability is now a big factor in their ability to win hockey games.
It’s hard to imagine the ‘Hawks winning 8 of their last 9 games without their performance on the man advantage.
Unfortunately, Columbus is coming in as the second-best penalty killing unit in the NHL at 84.5%. Alarmingly, the Blue Jackets have killed off 41 of their last 42 penalty kill opportunities.
Fortunately, Columbus is one of the only teams in the NHL whose power play is almost as bad as the Chicago’s penalty kill.
If the ‘Hawks want to win, finding a way to capitalize on their power play opportunities would be a big step.
2 – Allow less shots against
That’s an unacceptable pattern to let continue. What’s worse is that neither the Wings nor Devils have any business putting that kind of pressure on Blackhawks goaltenders.
Detroit and New Jersey are 13 and 15 points out of a playoff spot, respectively.
Yes, the ‘Hawks won both of those games and took 3 of 4 total, but this approach isn’t sustainable. Good teams will beat you when you give up that many opportunities and Boston is a perfect example.
Columbus has more goals for than any of those teams by a wide margin with only the Bruins coming close (they trail by 9).
Nevertheless, despite facing a large quantity of shots Cam Ward has been huge in net. Over the Blackhawks win streak he’s made game-saving saves to keep them in it. Furthermore, Ward has managed to win 5 straight including 6 of his last 7.
Still, if the ‘Hawks want to make tonight their ninth win in their last ten games, they need to clean things up in front of their net.
Maybe try keeping it under 40 this time guys? I don’t feel like I’m asking for much.
3 – The core guys need to keep rolling
Un-coincidentally, the Blackhawks hot stretch has been supported by red-hot performances from their core forwards.
First and foremost, Patrick Kane‘s Hart level of hockey needs to continue. He extended his point-streak once again Thursday night and looks to keep it rolling today. In his last 16 games he has 34 points.
To show the kind of impact Kane’s play has had, look no further than the second chart below created by Sean Tierney.
As Tierney points out, the Blackhawks really haven’t been much playing much better, yet they’re winning hockey games. Their play offensively — and especially the play of Kane — has been a major factor in that.
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Unfortunately, Thursday night saw all three of their point streaks come to an end. Still, the ‘Hawks need these guys to show up tonight against a good goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky who has won 4 of his last 5 starts.