The Chicago Blackhawks have dropped two straight divisional games against the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, but they will be looking to take advantage of some home-cooking on Sunday night as they take on the Ottawa Senators at the United Center.
On paper, it appears as though the Hawks should have an advantage. The Senators aren’t a high-scoring team, only averaging 2.9 goals per game (good for 19th in the NHL), and their special teams aren’t all that great either, ranking in the bottom half of the league in both the power play and penalty killing categories.
Despite those limitations, the Senators have been kept afloat by some excellent goaltending by the tandem of Craig Anderson and Lehner. They won four consecutive games against some quality competition, including the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets, and even though they were outshot in all four games, they took full advantage of the goaltending that they got.
A couple of skaters have really helped the Senators as well. Defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has shown he can play well on both the NHL and international stages, has been a beast, with two goals and three assists already so far this season while averaging 27:21 of ice time per game. He has been especially effective on the power play, picking up three points on the man-advantage so far this season.
Winger Bobby Ryan has also had a decent start to the year, scoring a pair of goals and picking up a pair of assists in six contests thus far. Ryan also has two power play points for the Senators, and they will need him to continue to improve his play if they’re going to keep up their hot start.
As for the Blackhawks, they’ll need to figure out what’s going on with their offense if they’re going to end their losing streak. Joel Quenneville has been shuffling up lines like crazy over the past few games, with all 12 forwards seemingly playing on different lines in each period of play. Some guys are still excelling, with Andrew Shaw headlining that group, but some like Bryan Bickell and Brad Richards are still searching for their groove.
Senator to Watch: David Legwand
While other players like Karlsson and Ryan are more flashy, Legwand is a crucial guy up the middle for the Senators. He wins face-offs, can score when needed (he had a goal and an assist as the Senators came from behind to beat the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday), and he’s consistently playing at a solid level. The Hawks have to make sure that they don’t sleep on him during this game, as he has the capability of burning those who underestimate him.
Blackhawk to Watch: Niklas Hjalmarsson
With the forward group struggling to get consistent scoring (they’ve only scored seven even strength goals in six games against non-Buffalo Sabres teams), the defense is going to be under more pressure to limit scoring chances. That pressure will mount even more on Sunday with Scott Darling getting the start in net for the Hawks, with Antti Raanta having played two of the last three days.
Hjalmarsson is going to be a key player in that regard. He made a tremendous play to break up a 2-on-1 rush during the game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, and his penchant for blocking shots and using his stick to clog up passing lanes will be key as the Senators try to utilize guys like Karlsson at the point and Ryan in closer to the goal.