Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, left, and defenseman Johnny Oduya, second from right, of Sweden can't stop a goal by the Dallas Stars offense including center Shawn Horcoff (10) and defenseman Trevor Daley (6) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Dallas, Texas. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)
The Chicago Blackhawks may not have gotten to spend Thanksgiving in the Windy City, but they have plenty to be thankful for as they are in the midst of a four game winning streak during their annual Circus Trip.
They will attempt to continue that streak on Friday night against a divisional rival, as they head to the Lone Star State to take on the Dallas Stars. Unlike the Hawks, who have played eight games over the last two weeks, the Stars have had it relatively easy during that time, playing just five contests and going 3-2 in that stretch. Their last game came on Tuesday, when they stunned an Anaheim Ducks team that has been rolling as of late.
Overall, the Stars have been doing quite well for themselves in the month of November, going 7-3-1 in that time and picking up wins over a couple of quality teams this month, including the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks in some tough road environments. They have lost a bit of ground thanks to losses to divisional rivals in the Hawks and St. Louis Blues, but there are plenty of reasons for them to be optimistic of a bit of a surge in the standings.
They have only played 23 games, giving them plenty of games in hand over the teams they are trailing, and they have only played nine of those 23 contests on home ice, meaning that they are already putting a good chunk of their road schedule behind them.
As for the Blackhawks, there isn’t a lot that has gone wrong for them lately. Despite dealing with injuries to key players like Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell, the Hawks have been able to keep pace with the Blues in the Central Division thanks to the 12 game point streak of Patrick Kane, as well as some great work from Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews on the offensive side of the ice.
The Blackhawks are also beginning to get healthier, with Hossa back in the lineup and with Michal Handzus also making his way back after missing 14 games with an upper body injury. They will also be getting Mike Kostka back in the near future, and Bickell could well return shortly after the circus trip concludes on Saturday.
Key to the Game: Limit Dallas’ Power Play Chances
Just like they did when they played the Vancouver Canucks last week, the Hawks are going to be going up against one of the league’s worst power play units on Friday night against the Stars. Dallas has only converted on 11.1% of their chances this season, and in the month of November, they have only scored on three of the 40 power plays that they’ve had.
Those numbers would suggest that the Hawks have little to worry about in terms of their own awful penalty killing unit, but they don’t want to give the Stars too many chances. Obviously, a team never wants to give up power plays since they have the potential to give the opposition plenty of momentum even if they don’t score, but more practically, the Hawks want to limit the Stars’ chances to prevent them from becoming too familiar with Chicago’s strategy.
That’s because the Hawks play the Stars three times over the next 12 days, and the two teams will become plenty familiar with each other over that span. Limiting the number of chances the Stars can probe the Hawks’ PK for weaknesses will be crucial if Chicago wants to extend their winning streak, and it could come in handy in the matchups to come between the two teams.
Blackhawk to Watch: Kris Versteeg
After picking up four points in his first four games with the Blackhawks after being acquired from the Panthers, Versteeg has gone cold in recent games. He is still getting some good scoring opportunities, but despite getting eight shots on goal in his last three games, Versteeg has zero points in those contests.
Now paired up with Brandon Pirri and Andrew Shaw on the Hawks’ third line, Versteeg is going to have to pick his play up if he is going to avoid a trip to the fourth line when Bickell returns to the lineup, and a game against a Stars team that the Hawks have played well against this season could be just the recipe for success.
Star to Watch: Ryan Garbutt
His overall statistics for the season might not be gaudiest in the league, but Garbutt’s recent play has begun to turn some heads. Over the Stars’ last three games, the 28-year old has racked up 14 shots on goal, and his goal and two assists on Tuesday against the Ducks were crucial for the Stars in that winning effort.
On a team where most of the focus is on flashy guys like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, Garbutt’s ability to provide some secondary scoring could be a big boost for them, and it will be interesting to see how he plays against the Hawks on Friday.