Tonight the Blackhawks play host to the red hot Anaheim Ducks, who are currently tied with Montreal for the league’s lead in points with 14. The Blackhawks come into this game having lost two of their last three games, while the Ducks enter the night fresh off a lopsided loss to the Sharks on Sunday snapping their seven game win streak. These two teams have been pegged by many to be the top two teams in the Western Conference this season, and tonight will be our first look at how they match up with one another.
Before I get to talking about the Hawks, a couple of story lines surrounding the Ducks heading into tonight’s game are Ryan Kesler, John Gibson, and the play of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
This will be Kesler’s first game against the Blackhawks as a member of the Ducks, and it is the first time he’ll be facing the Hawks since their supposed pursuit of him this past summer. Kesler’s presence in the Anaheim lineup makes the Ducks one of the deepest teams in all of hockey at the center position, something the Blackhawks tried to improve upon this offseason with the acquisition of Brad Richards. Kesler, as we all know, is one of the game’s best two-way forwards, as well as one of the most physical and toughest guys to play against. Going back to his days in Vancouver, Kesler has a very deep disliking for the Hawks, so it’ll be interesting to see if that carries over into tonight’s action.
As for John Gibson, he’ll be the Ducks’ starting goalie tonight. He has made a total of 5 starts in his NHL career (2 this year). With this being such a big game for both teams early on in the season, I thought we’d be seeing Frederik Andersen between the pipes for the Ducks, but I guess Bruce Boudreau wants to give Gibson a chance to prove himself against one of the league’s best teams.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are tearing it up right now. Both players have 12 points through their first 9 games, and Corey Perry leads the NHL with 9 goals. To compare, Patrick Sharp leads the Blackhawks with 3 goals and 8 points. As a result of Getzlaf and Perry’s hot starts, among some other things, the Ducks are averaging 3.22 goals per game this year. Tonight will be a huge test for the Blackhawks in trying to stop those two.
Okay, now to the Hawks.
It has been somewhat of an up and down start to the year for them, and they currently sit at 5-2-1, which is good for fourth in the West. The biggest positive that we’ve seen from the Blackhawks up to this point has been their ability to keep the puck out of their own net. They are third in the league in goals against per game (1.75) and penalty kill percentage (92%). What needs to improve is their powerplay, which has only converted 20% of the time this year (good for 15th in the league). Their lack of production with the man advantage is a huge reason why they are only averaging 2.62 goals per game so far, which leaves them ranked 16th in that category.
It hasn’t just been the powerplay that has disappointed thus far. The Blackhawks, believe it or not, are 24th in the NHL in 5 on 5 goals this year. They’ve only scored 11 times at even strength, which is very troublesome for a team with so much talent. Last game against Ottawa was the first time the Blackhawks scored during the second period this season. If it wasn’t for their great goaltending and defense, their record could look a lot different.
Speaking of the goaltending, Scott Darling will be making his second straight start tonight. He got his first ever win in his first ever NHL start against the Senators on Sunday, winning 2-1. He stopped 32 of the 33 shots that he faced and did a real nice job of cutting down the shooting angles and moving side to side from post to post against the Senators. He is 6’6″, 232 pounds and looks even bigger when standing in the crease. Hopefully he can continue using his size to his advantage. If he puts together another solid outing tonight, it’ll be interesting to see which direction the Blackhawks decide to go with their backup goalie once Crawford returns to the lineup. While Raanta has a ton of talent, his lack of size and vulnerability of getting pushed around in the crease puts him at a disadvantage when compared to Crawford and Darling.
The lines will look a little different than they did last game. As of now, Quenneville has them as Bickell-Toews-Hossa, Saad-Shaw-Kane, Sharp-Richards-Versteeg, Smith-Kruger-Morin. I like seeing that second line reunited. Saad does not belong on the third or fourth line, which is where he had played the last two games, and I love him being paired with Patrick Kane.
Tonight should definitely be a good test for both the Ducks and Hawks, as both teams will be using this game as a measuring stick to see where they currently stand. If you’re looking for something else to watch for in tonight’s game, keep your eyes on Marian Hossa. He currently has 998 career points, leaving him 2 shy of a huge milestone.