The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks face-off in the second of two matchups this evening. Last Saturday, the Blueshirts defeated the Blackhawks, 3-2, at Madison Square Garden. Alexandar Georgiev, who made his first start in net since being removed during the win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 21, played very well. The two goals he allowed were under review from the officials before being confirmed. He denied the opposition and top forwards Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat on several occasions throughout the game. Let’s take a look at some storylines for both teams ahead of tonight’s game at the United Center.
2 Storylines: Chicago Blackhawks (9-13-2)
Blackhawks Winning Close Games
Since Derek King was named interim head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks have been victors of several games by one goal. Seven of the eight wins under him have been one-goal contests, and a number of them have needed to go beyond regulation. The Blackhawks won two of the games in overtime and three of them in a shootout.
Since King has been the interim head coach for only a month, the Blackhawks are still finding their identity under the new coach and working on establishing a winning culture again. The team struggled to do that under previous head coach Jeremy Colliton. The results the team has produced under the interim head coach have built confidence they can win close games.
However, if a team is in a number of close games, they are not scoring enough or are giving up too many goals. The Blackhawks are going through a period of dealing with the former. Within the past month, the team has scored more than three goals in a game two times, with one of them being a shootout victory against the Washington Capitals on Dec. 2.
King commented on the matter and said the players are not troubled by the lack of scoring.
“Well, (for) the coaches, it gets a little nerve-wracking when you’re going into overtime all the time. We’ve got guys like (Toews) and (Kane) and guys who are used to putting up numbers – and an abundance of them, right? And they’re buying into sliding pucks deep, getting pucks behind them, and when the chance comes, they’ll make their plays. And if it goes in, it goes in. If not, they’re OK. They’re just as excited as the young kids going into overtime. They’re OK with that, and that says a lot about their character,” (from ‘How long can the Blackhawks keep winning without scoring? 5 observations off another harrowing victory,’ The Athletic, 12/5/2021).
The team had several chances against the Rangers last Saturday to score several goals as Kane created several scoring opportunities and missed a goal on more than one opportunity. He finished with one of the team’s two goals in the game. Kane and Jonathan Toews realize that the team will break out of their goal-scoring funk eventually.
2 Storylines: New York Rangers (16-4-3)
Georgiev Breaking Out of His Slump
Georgiev has been the starting goaltender for the Blueshirts, with Igor Shesterkin unable to play due to a lower-body injury he sustained during last Friday’s victory against the Sharks. The starting netminder is due to return for the Rangers at the end of the week, but the backup goaltender has improved his play after an inconsistent start to his season. Georgiev has held his own as he secured the victory against the Sharks and built upon that effort with his play against the Blackhawks the following night.
Georgiev looked like a reliable backup goaltender, which the team has come to expect from him over the last few seasons. He prevented scoring opportunities from the two top goal scorers on the Blackhawks in Kane and DeBrincat. He had 25 saves on 27 shots, and a .926 save percentage (SV%) during the win at Madison Square Garden last Saturday and will look to build upon that start this week.
Rangers Looking Like Contenders in the Eastern Conference
The organization appears to have turned the corner from rebuilding team to playoff contender as they have a 16-4-3 record under first-year head coach Gerard Gallant. The Blueshirts have maintained success during the last month after a rocky start. Since Nov. 8, the team has won 10 of the 11 games and is currently second in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division behind the Washington Capitals.
The Rangers currently have balance through the four lines that Gallant has put together.
Forwards Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have played with one another frequently before this season, as have Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. The season-ending injury to forward Sammy Blais, who had been playing on the top line prior to suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), created an opening that Dryden Hunt and Barclay Goodrow played on briefly before Kaapo Kaako was given a chance to contribute to the first line. The “kid line” of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Julien Gauthier has been exciting to watch, even though the combination has not scored a goal yet. The trio is full of speed, energy and contributes scoring opportunities. It appears to be a matter of time before one of them puts the puck in the net.
The two Original Six teams meet for the final time this season to play the second game in three days against one another. The first game was a highly contested, physical, defensive battle with plenty of young players on both franchises. Expect another game with lots of speed and energy between two teams looking to sustain their momentum.