The Chicago Blackhawks are two-for-two so far on their circus trip after a 7-1 shellacking of the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night, and they’ll look to go three-for-Canada as they take on the Vancouver Canucks Sunday.
That Saturday game was the antithesis of their effort on Thursday against Calgary, and it was exactly what the doctor ordered, unlike the game against the Flames, which saw the Hawks commit six penalties and a slew of defensive errors. Fortunately, they were able to persevere through that one, but a more consistent effort was needed against Edmonton, and that’s what they got.
Spearheading the effort was Marian Hossa, who had gone nine consecutive games without a goal before Saturday’s tilt. He finally broke that streak with a power play tally in the second period, and for good measure he threw in three assists to pace the rout. Jonathan Toews also had another outstanding game, winning 65 percent of his face-offs and scoring twice to continue his recent successes.
The offensive explosion was welcome (as was the fact that they largely stayed out of the penalty box), and they’ll be looking to continue it against the Canucks Sunday. As a team, Vancouver is allowing more than three goals per game so far this season, but they will likely have Ryan Miller in net for them against Chicago. The Hawks had plenty of success against Miller in the postseason when they ousted the St. Louis Blues, but so far this season the veteran netminder has a sparkling 12-3-0 record and a 2.74 GAA.
Another player to keep an eye on in the game will be forward Radim Vrbata. After joining the Canucks from the Phoenix Coyotes in the offseason, he’s quickly found his offensive touch, and lately he’s been unstoppable as he has three goals and seven shots on goal in the team’s last two games.
Of course, the Canucks wouldn’t be the Canucks without the exploits of the Sedin twins, and both of them look fantastic so far this year. Daniel and Henrik have combined for nine goals and 31 assists so far this season, and they’ve been lethal on the power play as they have eight power play points apiece for Vancouver.
In order to win this game, the Blackhawks will have to do two things. The first and most important is to play solid defense against that Sedin line. In the early days of this rivalry, it was Dave Bolland that was looked at as the Sedin-stopper, but now, the onus will likely fall on several lines. Toews will probably get some assignments against the group, as will Marcus Kruger’s line. The latter will likely be a matchup that the Canucks will seek out, but considering their penalty killing prowess, the Hawks could end up on the positive side of that battle.
The other key to victory for the Hawks will be to continue their efficient passing and shooting strategy from the past two games. The second line of Brad Richards, Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg has been especially good, and they should get some favorable matchups as the Canucks look to slow down the Toews line on defense. Look for that group to get some solid scoring chances, and if they can get a couple of goals it should really help the Hawks as they look for another road victory.