The Kings, likely still upset at letting the game in Dallas get away from them on Wednesday, didn’t have time to dwell on it because they needed to prepare for Saturday night’s home match up with one of the premier teams in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks boast an impressive 13-7-3 record this season, and no team in the NHL has more points than the 29 that Chicago has. However, they’ve fallen on some tough times recently. Chicago is coming off a 6-5 regulation win in Anaheim on Friday (but really, everyone beats the Ducks), a game in which they overcame a 4-2 deficit to rally for the victory. However, before that, it had been a bit of a recent struggle for the ‘Hawks, as they had lost three straight games before that and were outscored 15-4 over that span, including an embarrassing 9-2 loss in Edmonton. Was Friday’s victory the end of the slump for Chicago, or was it just simply being able to (barely) beat a bad team? The Kings hope it’s the latter.
This is a match up of strength versus strength, and weakness versus weakness. The Blackhawks’ second-ranked offense, averaging 3.26 goals per game, gets to take on the Kings’ defense that is tied for seventh in the NHL, allowing an average of 2.32 goals against per game. At the same time, the Kings’ offense is tied for 23rd in the NHL, averaging just 2.41 goals per game, while the Blackhawks are allowing an average of 3.09 goals against per game, which ties their defense for 20th in the NHL.
Where the Kings should have an advantage is on the power play. Los Angeles has had their power play struggle a bit lately, but it’s still ranked 12th in the NHL at an 18.3% success rate. Meanwhile, Chicago’s penalty kill is dead last in the NHL, killing off penalties at only an alarming 73.2% success rate. The LA penalty kill had also been struggling a bit lately, but now hasn’t given up a goal in the last two games, getting their rank up to 15th in the NHL, killing off 83.2% of their penalties. With all of the talent on Chicago’s roster, you’d figure that the Kings’ penalty kill would be in for a tough test, but the Blackhawks have only the 15th-ranked power play in the NHL, scoring on 17.4% of their opportunities. While that’s certainly not bad and the Kings should still look to stay out of the box because Chicago’s power play should give the Kings’ penalty kill all they can handle, you’d expect a more successful power play from a team with as much firepower as the Blackhawks.
Even after they were forced to get rid of so many of their players because of the salary cap after they won the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks are still loaded with talent and still boast an incredible lineup. Leading the way up front are some of the premier forwards in the game, such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa. Complementing them up front for Chicago are the likes of Viktor Stalberg, Andrew Brunette, Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Dan Carcillo, Marcus Kruger, Bryan Bickell, Ben Smith, and Jamal Mayers. One of them will be a healthy scratch.
On defense, the Blackhawks are led by two of the game’s best defensemen, in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Filling out the blue line in Chicago are Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Sami Lepisto, Steve Montador, two-time former King Sean O’Donnell, and Kevin Westgarth’s good friend as well as Chicago’s only known mountain, John Scott. Two of them will be healthy scratches.
In goal for the ‘Hawks, Corey Crawford has been getting the majority of the work this season. Crawford is 10-6-2 with a 2.86 GAA and an .899 Sv%. Not fantastic numbers, and with Crawford playing Friday in Anaheim, as well as allowing five goals on 29 shots to the NHL’s 29th-ranked offense — the Ducks average just 2.14 goals per game this year, and that’s after putting five past Crawford on Friday — it’s very possible that we could see Ray Emery in goal for the Blackhawks on Saturday. Despite a 3-1-1 record, Emery’s numbers aren’t flattering so far this season. He has a 3.70 GAA to go along with an .874 Sv%. Either way, the Kings should have an opportunity to do some damage on offense.
For the Kings, they practiced on Friday with the same lines and defense pairings that they played with on Wednesday in Dallas, so it doesn’t look like we should expect any changes. That once again means Anze Kopitar between Simon Gagne and Justin Williams, Mike Richards between Andrei Loktionov and Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll between Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter, and Colin Fraser between Ethan Moreau and, the newest Kings sniper, Kevin Westgarth. Wait, is Terry Murray sticking with the same lines for a while? This is odd…
Yes, that means Moreau will be back in the lineup, as he’s been in every game this season, despite his poor play and inexcusable slashing penalty late in Wednesday’s game on Sheldon Souray. Taking him out of the lineup seems like the obvious thing to do. He’s hurting the team, and he thinks he’s getting a free ride right now. Play as poorly as he has, and he gets put on the power play and in crucial situations like the one in Dallas on Wednesday, rather than in the press box? Show the players that they’re going to be held accountable for their actions and that there will be consequences for poor play, and it would be a good way to get Brad Richardson or Trevor Lewis back in the lineup, but it doesn’t appear that’s what Terry Murray is going to do, meaning those two will once again be the healthy scratches. No, those two players haven’t been great this year, but at least they aren’t hurting the team like Moreau is and they’ve brought something to this team in the past and can at least bring some speed and penalty kill ability, as well as more potential for secondary scoring. It doesn’t look like Murray sees it that way, however.
On defense, there will also be no changes. It’s expected to be Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Jack Johnson, and Slava Voynov with Matt Greene. Davis Drewiske will be a healthy scratch (this is a recording). Not that I have a problem with Drewiske being a healthy scratch, I certainly think we’re dressing seven better defensemen than him, I just think it’s kind of funny how much he’s a healthy scratch. He may not see it that way, however…
In goal, it’s expected to be Jonathan Quick.
The Kings have had their struggles against the Blackhawks lately. They’ve lost six straight games against Chicago, and the last five have all been in regulation. However, they’re usually close games that the Kings just can’t seem to find a way to come out on top in. The last three losses were by one goal (the one before that was by two, and the one before that was by three). The last time that they did find a way to come out on top against the Blackhawks was back on November 28th, 2009, a 2-1 shootout victory at Staples Center. However, the Kings also had serious problems with the St. Louis Blues in the last couple of years, but appear to have turned that around this season. The Kings have also had trouble against some of the league’s elite teams this year, losing to the likes of the Canucks, Sharks, Red Wings, Penguins, Devils (twice, although it’s debatable whether they’re still an elite team or not, they’re going to have to prove that this year), and Sabres. In order to beat Chicago, they’ll need to end their struggles against them as well as find a way to beat an elite team. Will they be able to, or will they once again come up short against the Blackhawks?