Well, just like the traffic approaching the circle interchange on the Dan Ryan Expressway, that glimmer of hope Chicago Blackhawks fans had last week has hit the brakes. After Corey Crawford’s 3-0 shutout of the Dallas Stars, it looked like things were starting to head in the right direction. However, the Hawks defense took a few steps back, allowing 12 goals in two games against the Colorado Avalanche over the weekend.
The Blackhawks struggles became more amplified after two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith left the ice with a groin injury midway through the second period of Saturday’s game against the Avalanche. Keith didn’t travel to Colorado for the second leg of the home-and-home series with the Avs, marking his first scratch since April 6, 2017, and ending his 189-game streak.
The Hawks will need to adjust to not having Keith on the ice.
“It’s one of those things you’re so used to having him on the back end doing what he does, it’s almost like you take it for granted,” Jonathan Toews said. “A lot of minutes he plays, what he does offensively and defensively, just how he makes the game easier on his own partner and everyone around him too. Hopefully he’ll be back soon. Not used to being out there without a guy like him and definitely hurts a lot.”
The road doesn’t get any easier this week, opening tonight at the United Center hosting the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. After a couple days of rest, the Blackhawks hit the road for a quick two-game, two-night road trip to take on the Boston Bruins on Thursday and the New Jersey Devils on Friday. The Hawks close the week back on home ice hosting the Arizona Coyotes during a Sunday evening matchup.
Monday, Dec. 2 vs. Blues
Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Matt Murray gave up five goals against St. Louis on Saturday night as the Enterprise Center crowd was treated to a 5-2 Blues win. The victory marked their third-straight win and moved their mark to 5-1-1 in their last seven contests.
The Western Conference leaders are now 17-5-6 and are led on the offensive zone by David Perron with 27 points. Perron’s 11 goals ranks second on the St. Louis stat sheet behind goal-scoring leader Brayden Schenn. But the Blackhawks will have to deal with a balanced attack from their rivals from the south, as Jaden Schwartz, Mackenzie MacEachern and Ivan Barbashev all chipped in goals against the Pens.
“We had everybody contributing tonight, which is important for sure,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said after the win over the Pittsburgh. “We need everybody to chip in goals, and we did that tonight.”
The Blues are banged up, with four forwards — Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, Sammy Blais and Oskar Sundqvist — all out due to injury. After serving a four-game suspension, defenceman Robert Bortuzzo is eligible to return to the lineup tonight.
PREDICTION: Blues 4, Blackhawks 2
Thursday, Dec. 5 @ Bruins
The Bruins were looking for their seventh-straight win when they welcomed the Montreal Canadiens to the TD Garden on Sunday, after a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers on Friday. The hometown crowd was not disappointed, as David Backes tallied his first goal of the season in his first game in nearly a month. Backes scored the deciding goal with 9:31 left in the third period, while David Pastrnak added his league-leading 25th goal to secure the win over the Canadiens, 3-1.
Currently perched solidly on top of the Atlantic Division with a 19-3-5 record, the Bruins are 12 points ahead of the second-place Florida Panthers. They are tied with the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the NHL with 43 points. With a powerful goal scoring offense, the Blackhawks will once again have their hands full on defense trying to keep the Boston scoring attack at bay. Brad Marchand leads the Bruins in points with 43, while Pastrnak is one point behind with 42 and leads the Bruins in goals with 25.
In net, Tukka Rask is currently 13-2-2 in goal for the Bruins, with two shutouts and a goals against average of 2.10. The Bruins have two players listed on their injury report: Brett Ritchie is on injured reserve while Patrice Bergeron is listed as out.
PREDICTION: Bruins 4, Blackhawks 1
Friday, Dec. 6 @ Devils
The Devils totaled 33 shots during their loss to the New York Rangers in their last game entering this week, but Ranger netminder Alexandar Georgiev shut them all down handing New Jersey a 4-0 defeat. Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood allowed three goals in the 22 shots he faced to get tabbed with the loss.
With the loss, the Devils enter the week with a 9-12-4 record, placing them eighth in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils are led by Taylor Hall with 21 points and 17 assists, both team highs. Blackwood is 8-7-3 with a shutout and a 3.12 goals against average (GAA). Backup Louis Domingue is 1-1-0 with a GAA of 1.76.
RELATED: Devils’ Downward Spiral Deepens
Entering the week, the Devils have just one player on their injury report, with Jack Hughes listed as out.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 3, Devils 1
Sunday, Dec. 8 vs. Coyotes
Entering the week coming off back-to-back losses to the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks, the Coyotes have nonetheless been impressive this season, boasting a 15-9-4 record and holding second place in the Pacific Division.
Former Blackhawk Nick Schmaltz will welcome his old club to town, leading the Yotes with 20 points, 15 of them assists. Conor Garland tops the goal stat sheet with 10, while Christian Dvorak, who netted the game-winner in a 4-3 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks last week, ranks second in both points and goals, with 16 and 8, respectively.
The Blackhawks offense will need to find an answer to Coyotes netminder Darcy Kuemper, whose 1.97 goals against average is tops in the NHL.
PREDICTION: Coyotes 3, Blackhawks 1
Scott brings several years of local hockey coverage with the Kankakee Daily Journal to the Hockey Writers, along with coverage of NCAA Hockey, Softball, Basketball, and Soccer with HEROSports. He is also a regular contributor to FloSoftball and Coach & Athletic Director Magazine.