Blackhawks Still Looking to Right Sinking Ship in Phoenix
It seems like eons since the Chicago Blackhawks have won a game, particularly on the road. They will hope to add a much needed two points to their total in the standings tonight when they're hosted by the Phoenix Coyotes.
After last night's defeat to the San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks are now winless in their last seven games. A slump such as this comes at possibly the worst time in the season, as most playoff teams are separating themselves from the pack.
The Phoenix Coyotes, however, are enjoying a somewhat successful last ten games as they are 6-3-1 over that span. Phoenix has also taken the last two games against the Blackhawks in the season series, outscoring them 8-4.
One of the biggest issues for the Chicago Blackhawks as of late has been the inconsistency of either the goaltending, or the defense corps. With Steve Montador now on the IR for his club, the Blackhawks will need their young-guns to step up on the blue line.
Long-time healthy-scratch Sami Lepisto saw his first action in quite a while last night for the Hawks against the Sharks and finished the game with an assist, was a +1 and had 11 minutes of ice time. Meanwhile, former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith had no points, was a -1 and had over 30 minutes of ice time. It might be time to share some of that wealth amongst the younger defensemen just a little bit more.
A large part of the Coyotes' success in recent years has been their dedication to defense and this year is no different. The Coyotes are ranked ninth in the league in goals allowed, which has contributed their recent four game win streak.
The special teams battle doesn't provide much of advantage to either team on paper, as Chicago's power play is currently ranked 14th in the NHL, converting at about 17%, maintaining at about middle of the pack. Phoenix has really struggled with this part of their game and are ranked a lowly 29th out of 30 teams league-wide on the man advantage, clicking at an awful 12.9% efficiency rate.
In contrast, however, the Blackhawks are one of the league's worst teams on the penalty-kill, ranked 28th out of 30 teams at a dismal 77%. Phoenix has had much more success on the penalty-kill, killing off 84% of penalties they face, good for tenth in the NHL.
The remainder of the season is not going to get any easier for the Chicago Blackhawks, as the majority of their opponents will be teams already in or close to playoff contention. Though there is no such thing as an "easy two points" in this league, it will be all the more difficult to win games for the Hawks against teams battling for points in the standings as we near the final stretch of the regular season.
Keep An Eye Out For -
Marcus Kruger: One of the few bright spots of last night's game for Chicago, Kruger has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 5 games for his club.
Sami Lepisto: He'll most likely be playing again tonight and should he receive more ice time, it will be a test to see if he can handle the added responsibility and step up to the challenge.
Ray Whitney: The experienced veteran for Phoenix has 5 points in 3 games against Chicago and always presents defensive problems with his impressive speed.
Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson are both out for Chicago, while David Schlemko is out for the season for Phoenix after foot surgery.
Tonight's game will be televised on WGN and FS-Arizona Plus and game time is 7:30 pm CT.