The Chicago Blackhawks continue their four-game road trip Saturday night in Dallas after a hard-fought shootout win in Columbus Thursday night. The freshly cooled off Blackhawks will be taking on the less-than-exciting Stars tonight in Dallas, who have gone 2 – 2 – 1 in their last five games.
Jaromir Jagr currently leads Dallas in both points and goals (18P, 10 G), followed closely by Loui Eriksson (17 P, 7 G). Head Coach Glen Gulutzan knows he cannot only rely on these two frontrunners – he needs more production from the defense. Three out of its seven defensemen show negative +/- numbers, compared to only 1 Blackhawks D-man showing negative numbers. In addition, the Stars have been outscored and outshot all season, a main contributor to their lowly 27 points through 26 games this season.
Don’t get hasty now; Dallas will not be an easy team to defeat at home. With top-shelf players like Jaromir Jagr, Jamie Benn, and Kari Lehtonen as healthy players, the Hawks will need to protect against physical play and sharp passes in the neutral zone – which has looked great for Dallas thus far in 2013. Kari Lehtonen is a key piece of the roster as well. With a 9 – 5 – 2 record on the season and a 0.926 GAA, he certainly presents some fits for the Hawks, who were able to squeak out a 3 – 2 victory in Dallas early in the season. Lehtonen has been a key factor for the Stars and he has incredible skills in the crease; he will not be an easy egg to crack.
Luckily for the Blackhawks, offensive firepower has not been a problem through 26 games this season. Patrick Kane leads the Hawks with 31 points, Jonathan Toews leads Chicago with a +13 +/- rating, and Marian Hossa has 4 game-winning goals this season. To show the depth of this season’s Madhouse Gang, Chicago’s 3rd and 4th lines account for 65 points between 6 players. Perhaps the best part of Chicago this season is the goaltending – Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have bailed the Hawks out of many grim situations. Emery’s spectacular game in Calgary early in the season is a highlight, but his 10 – 0 – 0 record on the seasons speaks to how well he plays, even in his backup position.
What really needs to improve for Chicago is the special teams play. The Hawks have only converted 17 PP opportunities out of 95 through 27 games this season and have allowed 15 of 96 goals on the PK, including two shorthanded goals. The Power Play was a major factor last season for the Hawks, who were not able to figure out how to make it work well for them. This season has been an improvement, but it still needs work if they want to make a postseason dash for the Cup.
Patrick Sharp is still out for the Madhouse Gang since last week and is not expected to return for another week or two, according to Quenneville. The Stars are missing Aaron Rome with a lower body injury and Jamie Benn, who is day-to-day with a wrist injury.
The three keys to a Hawks victory in Dallas are 1) holding a tight blue line, 2) exploiting weaknesses in Dallas’ defense to get key rebounds in the crease, and 3) activate the Power Play. If Chicago can play in the Dallas zone for most of the night and get traffic in front of the net, they should be able to walk away with a solid 2 points (hopefully in regulation) and shut down the Stars at their own home on Saturday night.