It may not have the storied history of their rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings, but the Chicago Blackhawks will take on one of their most heated rivals on Saturday night when they play the Vancouver Canucks in a late night showdown.
The Blackhawks have seen some mixed results lately, picking up some big victories against the Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks but also dropping a couple of embarrassing losses to the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche. They did seem to right the ship on Thursday night when they dominated the Winnipeg Jets in a 6-3 win, and they will look to continue that momentum as they head to Vancouver.
As for the Canucks, they have been down more often than they’ve been up in recent weeks. Before Friday night’s blowout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Canucks had lost five straight games and had been outscored 14-6 in those games. Three of those losses had come on home ice, and to make matters worse, three of the losses came against Pacific Division teams, and the defeats have put the Canucks in a tough spot in what has been arguably the best division in the league so far this year.
Obviously, the way both of these teams are playing lately makes this a critical matchup for both sides. The Hawks need to show that they have fully recovered after a couple of dud games that sandwiched their win over the Sharks, and the Canucks are in need of a signature win as they try to pick up the pieces from a disastrous stretch of poor play.
Key to the Game: Winning the Battle vs. Vancouver Power Play
One of the biggest stories surrounding the Blackhawks all season long has been their abysmal performance on the penalty kill. After dominating in that area last year, the team hasn’t been able to find the right formula for success, and despite some glimmers of hope in recent games, they are still 29th in the league in PK success, only killing off 72.7 percent of the power plays they face.
On Saturday, they will look to change that against a Canucks power play that, despite having Henrik and Daniel Sedin, is the worst in the NHL, only scoring on 10.7 percent of their chances. Ironically, the Canucks do have the league’s best penalty killing unit under first year head coach John Tortorella, but it’s their power play that the Hawks are going to need to focus on Saturday night.
The key for the Hawks in establishing the penalty kill early is to get adequate pressure on players camping out in front of the net. Too often lately, the Hawks have been allowing guys to just camp out in front of Corey Crawford, and as a result there have been plenty of chances off of deflections, goals scored thanks to screens, and most worrisome of all, juicy rebounds being given right near the blue paint.
If the Hawks can get bodies on players in front of the net and clear shots out before opponents can get a chance at rebounds, then they can begin to reverse the trend that they have displayed so far this season.
Blackhawk to Watch: Duncan Keith
Keith has been an offensive force for the Hawks all season long, and he’s been remarkably consistent recently. He has five points (1 G, 4 A) in the team’s last six games, and he has been a crucial part of an offensive attack that is currently the best in the NHL, scoring 3.6 goals per game.
The reason Keith is a key tonight is because the Hawks need him to step up his offensive game in order to win. In the Hawks’ last five games, they have won all three games that Keith had four or more shots on goal, and they have lost both games in which he had two or fewer. Shots on goal is obviously not the most reliable statistic when it comes to defining what makes a good offensive player, but in Keith’s case, it shows that he is being more assertive than usual, and that’s exactly what the Hawks need him to do on Saturday.
Canuck to Watch: Ryan Stanton
Though he off to a solid start for the Canucks, after being waived by the Blackhawks following training camp, Stanton has cooled off considerably in recent games. Coming into Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets, Stanton only had one assist in eight November games, and had eight shots on goal in those contests.
He broke out of that in a big way against the Jackets, racking up three assists as the Canucks’ offense roared back to life after a lackluster beginning of the month. If Stanton can keep his offensive mojo going against the team that cut him before the season began, then the Canucks are going to be in a great position to take advantage.