Blackhawks Look to Dethrone Kings' Playoff Hopes
After putting in a grind-it-out effort against one of the league's top teams to down the New York Rangers 4-3 on Friday night, the Chicago Blackhawks will look to build off said effort when they host the Los Angeles Kings tonight at the United Center.
It's hard to believe that the Blackhawks have only scored two goals in three games against LA this year, and not since late November. In the season series, Chicago took the first game in Los Angeles 2-1 on goals by Jonathan Toews and Andrew Brunette, but in the latter two matches, fell at the hands of Jonathan Quick, 2-0 and 4-0 respectively.
Chicago remains optimistic that franchise player and captain Jonathan Toews will return to the lineup soon from suffering a concussion several weeks ago and could be back as soon as Tuesday, but is still out for tonight's game.
Defensemen Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto are both still out for the Hawks, though Montador had a strong skate today, though he is not sure how long he will remain out.
The Kings will be without sniper Simon Gagne and winger Scott Parse for tonight's game. LA is dangerously close to losing all hope for the playoffs this year and will be desperate for points. With the recent acquisition of Jeff Carter from Columbus, to further exacerbate the "Philly West" label, LA addressed one of the biggest holes in their low-scoring, tight-checking defensive game.
LA has done marginally better in special teams with regards to their power play, which is only a few tenths of a percentage better than the Hawks' 15.9% effective rate, the Kings' rate clipping at 16.3%.
Where the Kings clearly have a special teams' advantage over Chicago comes on the penalty kill, where they are ranked fourth in the NHL and have killed off an amazing 26 penalties in a row. Chicago will look to ruin that streak tonight.
In order for the Hawks to find a way to overcome the defensive prowess of the Kings' squad, core players Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Kane will have to put up numbers on the score sheet, especially with the continued absence of Jonathan Toews. Hossa and Sharp both have six points in their last five games, while Kane five points in his last five games for the Hawks.
Recent acquisition to the blue line, Johnny Oduya, has been a very positive addition to the club with his strong puck moving abilities and defensively sound play in front of Hawks' goaltender Ray Emery. Oduya was part of the key performers for the Hawks in their recent win over the Rangers where he posted a goal and assist for his club. Though Oduya is very much not the second coming of Niklas Lidstrom for the Hawks' defense corps, he has been reliable and gives Chicago more options on the penalty kill and power play with his speed and ability to move the puck.
Oduya and the rest of the Chicago defensemen will have to remain tight and focused against LA's Anze Kopitar, who currently is the Kings' hottest player with six points in his last six games. LA's starting goaltender, Jonathan Quick, has not played his best in his last two starts, allowing eight goals on 41 shots, but has a 3-2 record over his last five games. Hawks will need to test him early and test him often.
If the Blackhawks can replicate their effort against the Rangers, build off their offensive work and tighten up defensively in front of presumable starting goalie, Ray Emery, who has played very well of late and is 4-1 over his last five games, Chicago will give themselves a great chance to win. They already have young players contributing on a fairly consistent basis, which is something not a lot of teams can say.
Tonight's game will be televised on NBCSN and TSN2 at 7 PM CT.