When the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins take to the ice in a nationally televised tilt on Sunday morning, there will be more than just bragging rights in a Stanley Cup Final rematch on the line.
For both teams, this game represents an opportunity to more firmly establish the direction in which the team is going during this portion of their schedules. Both the Blackhawks and Bruins have been up and down recently, with the Hawks going 4-1-5 in their last 10 games and the B’s going an even 5-5-0 in those contests.
The clubs will also be looking to keep pace with teams that are currently ahead of them in the conference standings. The Blackhawks currently sit six points behind the Anaheim Ducks in the race for home ice in the Western Conference (although the Ducks have played one more game than Chicago) and the Bruins are eight points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East.
Key to Victory for the Blackhawks: Power Play Must Improve, and Fast
Over the past two games, the Blackhawks’ power play has been a collection of failures that have complicated the team’s effort to win games. The Hawks went a combined 0-for-10 in games against the Avalanche (OT loss) and Ducks (regulation win), and in their past four games, they have gone 1-for 16 on the man-advantage.
The interesting thing about the performance of the power play in both games hasn’t been that it has been a complete demonstration of ineptitude, but rather an inability to capitalize on the best chances that the sequences have to offer. Whether it was Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov swallowing up every shot, or the Ducks putting pressure on the Hawks’ point players with their aggressive forecheck, both teams were able to stop the league’s 4th-ranked power play in different ways, and the Bruins will likely display some of the same skills in this one.
If the Blackhawks are going to cure what ails them on the power play, then persistence is going to be their best friend. Continually peppering the net with shots from all angles, and just as importantly getting traffic to the front of the net (Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad will be critical in that area) are the names of the game for Chicago, and if they can keep doing that, then it will keep a lot of pressure on the Bruins in the contest.
Bruin to Watch: David Krejci
There are a lot of streaky players in the NHL, and Krejci has been no exception as of late. After racking up seven points in a six game stretch to wrap up 2013, Krejci went on a scoreless drought that stretched through five consecutive games. The Bruins went 2-3-0 in that stretch, but that came to an end on Thursday when Krejci picked up a goal and an assist as the Bruins knocked off the Dallas Stars 4-2 in the Lone Star State.
If the Blackhawks are going to have a chance to win this game, then they are going to need to come up with a way to keep Krejci in check. Whether that’s using Jonathan Toews’ defensive skills against Krejci, or perhaps mixing up defensive pairings against the Bruins’ center, Joel Quenneville has got to be cognizant of whenever #46 is on the ice for the B’s.
Blackhawk to Watch: Patrick Kane
After a December to remember for Kane, in which he scored seven goals and added 16 assists, January has been a month to forget for the Hart Trophy candidate. In the month, Kane only has three assists, and hasn’t scored a goal since the calendar flipped to 2014.
Friday’s game against the Ducks was one of Kane’s roughest outings in that stretch, with only one shot on goal to show for 23:03 of ice time. There were some reasons for optimism embedded in the tough times though, as Kane’s second line once again showed some great chemistry as Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad both created a bit of space for the fluid-skating Kane to work in.
If those two can continue to do their jobs serving as viable scoring threats on the ice, then Kane should continue to get space against other teams, and that’s exactly what the Blackhawks need him to do against the Bruins. If Boston can bottle him up, then the rest of the offense is going to have a tough time getting going, and that could spell disaster for the defending champs.
We’ll be chatting about the Blackhawks’ showdown with the Bruins on the Madhouse Enforcer Twitter feed during the game, so check out @Madhousenforcer if you want to follow along!