Ottawa Senators right wing Erik Condra (22) is sandwiched between Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Sheldon Brookbank (17) and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
After a month of playing a ton of games against the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks are becoming intimately familiar with their own division in November. They will continue that trend on Saturday night when they take on the Dallas Stars in the Lone Star State.
The Hawks have yet to play the Stars this season, but if recent history is any guide, this game could get out of hand quickly. The last time the Hawks were in Dallas, they won an 8-1 victory and held the Stars to only 19 shots on goal. Oh, and Patrick Kane did this:
Obviously, this is a new year and a new team in Dallas, with Tyler Seguin coming into the fold and Loui Eriksson heading to the less-green pastures of Boston. The Stars have also gotten at least one point in their last four games, with two shootout victories and an overtime victory giving them a three-game winning streak this week. Kari Lehtonen has been brilliant in the goal for Dallas too, stopping an average of 31 shots per game in their winning streak.
As for the Hawks, they will be relying on Corey Crawford to step up in goal again as he makes yet another start. The move came as a bit of a surprise to beat writers, as normally the back-up goalie will start the road matchup in a back-to-back situation like Chicago finds itself in (they play against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night). With Crawford’s success in recent weeks though, Quenneville clearly wants to ride the hot hand for as long as he can, and Nikolai Khabibulin hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire lately with his play.
Another interesting quirk in the Hawks’ lineup is Quenneville’s decision to play Sheldon Brookbank at the third line winger spot for the second game in a row. Jeremy Morin will be a healthy scratch for Chicago. The move isn’t meant to be a “long-term” one, according to Quenneville, but it’s still interesting that he would insist on playing a defenseman in place of a quick winger on the third line.
Key to the Game: Second Line Must Step Up
The Blackhawks’ top line has been a machine in the five games since it was set up by Quenneville, but the team’s second line hasn’t necessarily shared in that success. Brandon Saad, Brandon Pirri, and Patrick Kane have all done well in those tilts, but they aren’t having quite the level of offensive production that Chicago would want to see out of them.
With the Stars getting the benefit of last line change on Saturday, the second line of the Hawks will likely draw some easier defensive matchups, and the trio has got to take advantage if they are going to help the team continue their remarkable offensive outburst as of late.
Blackhawk to Watch: Patrick Kane
We already alluded to Kane’s success against the Stars last year, but his performance in recent games is even more crucial in selecting him as a player to watch.
Even in a losing effort against the Calgary Flames Sunday, Kane played arguably his best game of the year, showing incredible patience on his goal and some deft passing throughout the game as he racked up five shots on goal in 21:30 of ice time.
If Kane can continue to play the excellent two-way game he has been displaying recently, then the Stars are going to be in for a big challenge in this one.
Star to Watch: Jamie Benn
While guys like Seguin get all of the headlines in Dallas, Benn has quietly been the team’s best scorer this season, with six goals and nine assists in 15 games.
Lately, Benn has been a huge asset to the Stars, scoring in each of Dallas’ last two games (both victories), and even though he didn’t get on the scoresheet against the Ottawa Senators Sunday, he did manage five shots on goal in the shootout victory.