The Dallas Stars roll into Chicago tonight for their first game against the defending Stanley Cup champs this season having collected points in nine of their last ten games (7-1-2). The Hawks, meanwhile, have won four of their last five games despite some injuries to key offensive players.
Patrick Kane suffered a lower body injury earlier this week and will be out tonight for Chicago in addition to Marian Hossa, who will not play either. They represent two of the Hawk's top four scorers but the Stars will have their hands full with Sharp, Keith, Toews, and company.
Despite the impressive point streak of the Stars, they have been held to two goals or fewer on the road in seven of their last eight outings. If the Stars really want Chicago to feel the pressure offensively without Kane and Hossa, they'll have to put more than two up on the board tonight to ensure that one good play by one good player can't beat them (a la Rick Nash on Monday night in Columbus.)
A good way to light the lamp a little more often on the road would be the increasing the road power play (4.9%). I think we may have mentioned this before a few dozen times. Dallas spent most of their practice Wednesday at United Center on their special teams.
Rumor has it that a certain young Dane could be inserted into the lineup tonight to help the ailing power play...
The Dallas Morning News hinted that Philip Larsen could once again see his way into the lineup on Wednesday night, but that the team would not go with seven defenseman again like it did against Minnesota. So who comes out? Jeff Woywitka seems to be the obvious candidate but he's played so well defensively lately that it's a tough call.
Would you sacrifice what Woywitka's been giving the team defensively for Larsen's elephant gun-shot from the point on the PP?
Elsewhere, Aaron Gagnon should play in his second straight game as Toby Petersen and Krys Barch are still out with hand and foot injuries respectively. Mark Fistric is getting close to his return and might be put on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars today.
The recalled and then prompting sent back Francis Wathier, leaving them with just 12 forwards on the trip.
The Stars were 2-1-1 against Chicago last year including 1-0-1 at United Center.
Expect the Burish/Ott/Segal trio to oppose whatever line Toews is leading tonight whenever Crawford can get them out there to match up. It will be an interesting chess match and no doubt the Richards and Ribeiro lines will have to deal with him at times.
Kane or no Kane, Hossa or no Hossa, the Hawks are still the defending champs and they'll play a tough game in front of a very large and noisy crowd tonight. They started the year off in an unfamiliar way, allowing high shot totals to pepper Marty Turco. They've got that under control now and have out-shot their opponents in eight of their last ten, holding team well under 30 S/G.
Given the Stars troubles with getting pucks on net in Columbus on Monday, this could be a big focus for Chicago who will want to limit the scoring with their big weapons out of the lineup.
Dallas will need to stay out of the box because the Hawks are 7 for their last 18 on the PP. (39%!)
Here's a bit from Second City Hockey, your Chicago Blackhawks headquarters:
With Hossa already out, this would be categorized as less than good (I'm a hockey expert!). Word around the campfire is that the lines will look as they did at the end of the Calgary game, with Jonathan Toews between speed merchants Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille. Tomas Kopecky will continue to waste our time on the second line. Obviously, with Kane out Jonathan Toews is going to have to harvest his inner Sidney Crosby and carry a banged up team through sheer will. I think he's got it in him, but we've only seen it in spurts this year (encouragingly, one of those was when Kane went down, so he clearly gets it).