The Chicago Blackhawks are coming off of one of their most disappointing losses of the season against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, but they have no time to look forlornly at the past as they take on the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
That’s because the Ducks are currently the team with the best record in the entire NHL, and they’ve been flying through the regular season.
They did drop a tough contest to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, but that loss was just their second in their last 10 games. They’ve gotten excellent goaltending out of Frederik Andersen, and he will be the man in net for them when they take on the Blackhawks Friday.
What will also help the Ducks is their incredible depth at the center position.
They are stacked on the top two lines with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler down the middle, and adding talented wingers like Corey Perry to the mix only makes them a more difficult team to defend against, especially for a team like the Blackhawks who have been struggling in that department in recent games.
In order to find success against the Ducks, the Blackhawks will first and foremost have to focus on stopping those menaces in the middle of the ice.
Getzlaf is one of the best facilitators in the league at the moment, dishing out 35 assists so far this season, and so the Hawks’ defensemen will have to be aware of the wingers coming up the ice on rushes. A good forecheck by the forwards will also help, but staying disciplined and not leaving lanes is going to be a key for guys like Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival in this game.
The other thing that the Blackhawks will have to focus on is getting scoring from multiple lines.
The second line has been in a state of flux since Kris Versteeg went down with an injury in the Winter Classic, and Patrick Sharp is currently trying to solidify a role with that group after Bryan Bickell was demoted back to the third line.
If the Hawks can get him going, and can continue to get solid production out of the top line, then they will be able to mount an effective counter-attack against Anaheim’s defense, and that will be a huge boost as they try to win this one.
One other thing to keep an eye on in this game will be the special team’s battle.
Neither team is particularly proficient on the power play, but Anaheim’s penalty killing unit is in the bottom half of the league, checking in at an 80.9% success rate. If the Blackhawks’ power play is going to cash in against anybody, it would be this type of team, and with the way they moved the puck at times against the Kings, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a man-advantage tally in this one for the visitors.