Despite a bit of a stumble last week, Chicago Blackhawks fans appear to have some hope for the future as the Hawks are starting to show signs of the playoff-caliber team they can be. Tonight at the United Center, the Blackhawks will host the Dallas Stars, who are coming off a 2-1 shootout victory over the Hawks on Sunday night. Friday night they will host the Colorado Avalanche on the front end of a home-and-home, back-to-back set of games.
Heading into last weekend, the Blackhawks had only faced three divisional teams in their first 22 games, with two against the same team (Nashville Predators). Saturday’s contest with the Stars began a stretch of five consecutive Central Division opponents, with Dallas taking the ice as one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Entering Saturday’s matchup, the Blackhawks and Stars were tied for fourth in the NHL, each with a .920 team save percentage (SV%). Blackhawks netminder Robin Lehner stopped 40 of 41 shots for a .976 SV%, but fell to 8-22 for his career in shootouts after going 0-2. Lehner’s difficulty in shootouts may need to be addressed in future, and the Vezina Trophy finalist gets it.
“I just want us to make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. That’s why I signed here. So if the coach feels that, he should definitely go for it. I would definitely not be mad. All for the team, and I wouldn’t take it personal because I know I’m a good hockey goalie. Has nothing to do with the shootout. Has nothing to do with the breakaways. It’s just a totally different game.”
A shot from the point that went off Roope Hintz’s shin pad was the only tally Lehner allowed in regulation time, and he now ranks first among all goaltenders with a .938 SV% on the season.
Tuesday, Nov. 26 vs. Stars
The Stars started their 2019-20 campaign struggling, opening with a 1-7-1 record in their first nine games, but have been on a tear ever since, picking up 29 out of a possible 32 points in their last 16 games to move their record to 15-8-2. With the weekend win over the Blackhawks, the Stars are in second place in the Central Division.
Leading the offensive charge for the Stars is Tyler Seguin’s 19 points, with 13 assists on the season. Hintz tops the goals column with 10, including one on the power play. In net, goalie Ben Bishop is currently 8-5-1 with a 2.25 goals against average (GAA). Backup netminder Anton Khodobin is 6-3-1 with a 2.15 GAA.
The Stars injury report includes John Klingburg, who remains on injured reserve, and John Dowling, who is listed as out.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 3, Stars 1
Friday/Saturday Nov. 29, 30: Home-and-Home vs. Avalanche
The Avalanche enter the week coming off a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. They will host the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night before heading to Chicago for a Friday matchup with the Blackhawks.
Against the Maple Leafs, the Avalanche scored almost as soon as the game started, but a four-goal first period for Toronto proved to be too much for them to overcome, losing their second straight game dropping their season record to 13-8-2.
Posing a challenge to the Blackhawks’ surging offense, the Avalanche defense held Toronto to just three shots on goal during the second period, matching their fewest shots against in a period this season. They also succeeded in the faceoff circle, holding possession on 60.3 percent from the faceoff circle — their highest faceoff-win percentage of the season thus far.
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The Hawks defense will need to find an answer to Andre Burakovsky, who is riding a five-game point streak, having now registered nine points during the run (five goals, four assists). The streak matches his highest point total over any five-game stretch during his career.
During their loss to the Minnesota Wild last Thursday, Cale Makar’s November tear continued as the rookie defenseman tallied a pair of goals. Makar is currently the leading rookie scorer in the league with 25 points –- a seven-point margin ahead of Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson. His 25 points trails Avs’ leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon who sits with 33 points on 14 goals and 19 assists. The Avalanche injury list is extensive, with Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Colin Wilson, Tyson Jost and Matt Calvert all listed as out.
FRIDAY PREDICTION: Blackhawks 4, Avalanche 3
SATURDAY PREDICTION: Blackhawks 1, Avalanche 3
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.