After 14 games in the 29 days of February – 11 of them on the road – the Chicago Blackhawks open March at home on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks. The Hawks will play 11 of their next 15 games on United Center ice and will need to take full advantage to keep their extremely slim playoff hopes alive.
The Blackhawks closed February with a 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers and will use their homestand to develop some consistency and gain momentum.
“Yeah, being at home for the majority of the next month is going to be big for us,” said Drake Caggiula, who scored his eighth goal of the season on Saturday. “It’s been a tough month in February just being away and it’ll be nice to have some stability at home, and being around your family and stuff like that, as well. We’re looking forward to going home and playing in our building, and having the home fans behind us and being around our families and stuff as well.”
Their road trip was capped by back-to-back wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Panthers and, despite their dim playoff hopes, the Blackhawks plan to battle every night to stay in the hunt. Assuming a 92-point threshold to make the postseason, the Hawks will need a 13-4 record through their last 17 games to earn a berth – and don’t tell them it’s not possible.
“Absolutely,” Jonathan Toews replied when asked if he believes the Blackhawks still have a chance. “I think our schedule is definitely favorable. So, take advantage of the rest when we can and try to play with energy. Try to be really good at home. The opportunity is there and we’ll just take it one game at a time.”
A demanding schedule and tough travel are part of the game and every team has their fair share of it to deal with, but the Hawks aren’t looking for excuses.
“I think the thing that would weigh on the guys is just we’ve fallen a little bit out of the picture based on the results, even though I think they’re competing and they’re playing hard,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Not so much the road games. We’ve shown we can win on the road and we’ve done that. Guys are competitive. They want to be playing big games and so that’s what would weigh on them, I would think.”
Crawford Stepping It Up
Since the departure of Robin Lehner, Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford has started in five straight games – the first time this season.
The veteran has responded by playing some of his best hockey of the year, with a 3-2-0 record, a 2.52 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
The Week Ahead
A four-game stretch lies ahead this week, opening at home Tuesday night against the Ducks. After hosting the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and a quick trip to Detroit on Friday to take on the Red Wings, the Blackhawks return home for a Sunday evening game against the St. Louis Blues.
Tuesday, March 3 vs. Ducks
The Ducks have lost five of their last seven games and are averaging 2.5 goals per game while scoring on 14.7 percent of their power-play opportunities.
Adam Henrique leads Anaheim with 24 goals, Ryan Getzlaf has 27 assists and Rickard Rakell has 162 shots on goal. On defense, the Ducks are allowing 3.1 goals per game and are killing 77.4 percent of penalties. Goaltender John Gibson has given up 144 goals on 1,502 shots and Ryan Miller has allowed 52 goals on 557 shots. The Ducks have allowed three or more goals in 10 of their last 17 games.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 3, Ducks 1
Thursday, March 5 vs. Oilers
After splitting their last 10 games, the Oilers are averaging 3.1 goals per game and scoring on 28.6 percent of their power-play opportunities.
Leon Draisaitl leads Edmonton with 39 goals, Connor McDavid has 58 assists and James Neal has 107 shots on goal. The Oilers defense is allowing 3.1 goals per game and is killing 84.1 percent of penalties. Goaltender Mike Smith has given up 96 goals on 1,012 shots and Mikko Koskinen has allowed 92 goals on 1,028 shots. The Oilers have allowed three or fewer goals in 15 of their last 18 games.
PREDICTION: Oilers 3, Blackhawks 2
Friday, March 6 at Red Wings
The Red Wings entered Monday night’s contest with the Colorado Avalanche having dropped 10 of their last 12 games. Detroit is averaging two goals per game and is scoring on 14.9 percent of their power-play opportunities.
Tyler Bertuzzi leads the Red Wings with 18 goals, Dylan Larkin has 30 assists and Anthony Mantha has 124 shots on goal. On defense, the Red Wings are allowing 3.8 goals per game and are killing 74.5 percent of penalties. Goaltender Jimmy Howard has given up 96 goals on 817 shots faced and Jonathan Bernier has allowed 114 goals on 1,220 shots. The Red Wings have also allowed three or more goals in 16 of their last 19 games.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 5, Red Wings 1
Sunday, March 8 vs. Blues
The St. Louis Blues open the week tonight in New York against the Rangers and will try to build on their seven-game winning streak after a 4-3 shootout win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
The Blues are averaging 3.2 goals per game and are scoring on 23.9 percent of their power-play opportunities. David Perron leads St. Louis with 25 goals, Ryan O’Reilly has 46 assists and Alex Pietrangelo has 206 shots on goal. The Blues defense is allowing 2.7 goals per game and is killing 79.7 percent of penalties. Goaltender Jordan Binnington has allowed 120 goals on 1,339 shots and Jake Allen has allowed 47 goals on 599 shots. Additionally, the Blues have allowed three or more goals in 13 of their last 19 games.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 4, Blues 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.