Normally, we aren’t in the business of game previews here at Madhouse Enforcer, but with the matchup Wednesday night between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, we’ll make an exception.
You see, the game isn’t just a battle to help determine which team will grab home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but it is also historic. In history, no two teams with better records than Chicago (24-2-3) and Anaheim (21-3-4) have ever played each other this late in the season (after the 25 game mark).
So what will be the biggest keys to the battle? Here is a quick breakdown before the puck drops at 9 p.m. Central:
Corey Crawford vs. Jonas Hiller:
The matchup between two of the hottest goalies in the West will be arguably the most important one of the night.
Crawford has been very good against the Pacific Division so far this season, with a 4-0-1 record including one shootout loss to these Ducks. Career against Anaheim, Crawford has started nine games, going 5-3-1 and putting up a 2.13 GAA against them. In addition, he does have a .918 save percentage and one career shutout.
On the flip side of the ledger, Hiller has been nearly unbeatable this month. He is 5-0-2 in March, with a 1.67 GAA and a .942 save percentage. He has started 14 career games against the Blackhawks, going 7-4-2 with a 2.42 GAA and a .927 save percentage in those games.
These numbers are pretty close, but if you were to go strictly by how the two goalies have been playing lately, the narrow edge has to go to Hiller. In seven games this month he has only allowed 12 goals, and that number includes four against the Phoenix Coyotes on March 4th. Contrast that with the two stinkers that Crawford recently against Colorado and Edmonton, and the matchup must be ceded to the Swiss-born keeper.
Hawks PP vs. Ducks PK
One of the strengths of this Blackhawks team this season has been their power play unit. After a hot start, however, they have cooled, dropping to 13th in the league. This month, they are 5-for-24 on the man-advantage, which is right in line with that percentage.
As for the Ducks, their penalty killing unit is a paltry 24th in the league, but it has picked up lately. This month, they have allowed four PPG in 10 games, going 4-for-27 over that stretch. That 86% clip isn’t exactly gangbusters, but it’s a far cry from how they were performing early.
In this situation, the narrow edge has to be given to Chicago. Their offense has really been clicking in their previous three victories on the current road trip, and even without Hossa in the lineup for a good chunk of time Monday, the team still is riding the hot play of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom have a penchant for power play magic.
Hawks Road Prowess vs. Ducks Home Ice Magic
The Ducks have lost one game at home this season. Ever since they lost a 5-0 laugher to the Vancouver Canucks, they have gone on to dominate at the Honda Center, going 12-0 and racking up a very nice 44-21 goal differential over that stretch.
As for the Blackhawks, they too have been making their own magic, but on their side, it’s been a road thing. Excluding their 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Avalanche earlier in the month, the Hawks have outscored opponents 54-24 in the other 15 road games and have killed off 87.8% of the penalties they’ve faced in road games.
In this particular area, a narrow edge has to be given to Chicago, and we’ll rely on a statistic we used yesterday in discussing Jack Adams candidates to evaluate how “lucky” or “unlucky” the Hawks and Ducks have been this season. The Ducks are one of the worst teams in the league in terms of puck possession, judging by their 45.97% Fenwick Close (a metric designed to track how much time in a game a team has the puck) percentage. Contrast that with the Blackhawks’ 55.27% in that category, and you can see why it wouldn’t be completely unexpected for the Hawks to hold onto the puck for a good chunk of the game and to severely limit Anaheim’s chances.
And the Winner Is…
While Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score picked the Blackhawks, and Dave Lozo picked the Anaheim Ducks for NHL.com, the prevailing wisdom of both men is the same: this is going to be a tightly contested game right down to the finish. With the Hawks missing Marian Hossa and the Ducks missing Corey Perry, that’s two snipers off the ice to enable the other team to relax just a bit.
Unfortunately for Chicago, they are also missing Patrick Sharp, so with those two absences looming large, we’re feeling the Ducks winning in a 3-2 shootout decision.