LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 25: Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks is pursued by Justin Williams #14 of the Los Angeles Kings for the puck in the first period at Staples Center on February 25, 2012.
Pretty devilish of the NHL schedule-makers to give the Hawks a homestand against the three best defensive teams in the league. There's no way they could know beforehand, could they? What can I say, I'm a conspiracy theorist.
After defeating the second-best defensive team in the form of the New York Rangers with a galvanizing 3rd period comeback, the Hawks have to manage it all again by trying to get two points against the third-best defensive team in the Los Angeles Kings.
No lineup changes for the Hawks, though both Steve Montador and Jonathan Toews are skating again. Ray Emery will get the start for the fifth straight game.
The Kings come in being one of the most disappointing teams in the league. There were huge expectations for a young squad that looked for all the world to be ready to make the leap, and right now they sit outside the playoffs. That said, they're only five points behind the Pacific Division leading Stars, and with a hot streak could still end the season as division winners.
They've been schizophrenic of late. They put up five goals in a win in Nashville, two things that are very hard to do against the Predators. But they backed that up with a complete no-show in a loss to Columbus, and then backed that up by contriving a way to blow a 3-2 lead to Detroit with less than four minutes to go and only giving up 15 shots. Needless to say, from night to night the Kings can be anything.
The main story with the Kings is their lack of scoring. That's being as polite as can be, because this team couldn't slap a bull's backside with a snow shovel. They're last in the league in goals-for, and by a distance.
They've been let down by down seasons from some. Mike Richards has one goal in 32 games. Star center Anze Kopitar has 55 points, but more was expected of him. They recently acquired Jeff Carter to try and help, and he's got three goals in his last four games. But they're still struggling to that end.
Not at the other end, however. The Hawks have gone 143 minutes against the Kings without scoring. Jonathan Quick is in the top five in both goals-against and save-percentage. However, the past two springs Quick has faded from overuse. His last two starts have seen him give up four goals in each, and that must put Kings fans on edge that it's all happening again.
The plan should be the same as it was against New York. Keep the gaps on the breakouts small, with no forwards flying the defensive zone early. Small passes are the order of the day, as is simply getting the puck in deep behind the Kings' defense when the blue line is shut off -- which it will be most of the night. Work hard, and get bodies to the front of the net, otherwise Quick will have a chance at his third shutout of the Hawks this year.
If you're mistake-free defensively, the Kings have a hard time hurting you. Get two or three goals, and the Kings may feel they can't catch you. Because they probably can't.