Minnesota Wild (22-17-4) 48pts 6th in the Central
2.86 Goals For Per Game (16th in the NHL)
2.91 Goals Against Per Game (18th in the NHL)
18.8% Power Play (17th in the NHL)
83.2% Penalty Kill (8th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #12 Eric Staal ~ 19G 18A = 37pts
2. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 12G 20A = 32pts
3. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 15G 15A = 30pts
4. #20 Ryan Suter ~ 5G 22A = 27pts
5. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 6G 16A = 22pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #17 Marcus Foligno ~ 43 PIM’s
2. #9 Mikko Koivu ~ 34 PIM’s
3. #12 Eric Staal ~ 28 PIM’s
1. #40 Devan Dubnyk (15-9-0-2) 2.72GAA .916%SP 3SO
2. #32 Alex Stalock (7-8-0-2) 2.71GAA .914%SP 1SO
Chicago Blackhawks (21-15-6) 48pts 5th in the Central
3.17 Goals For Per Game (7th in the NHL)
2.74 Goals Against Per Game (13th in the NHL)
16.4% Power Play (25th in the NHL)
82% Penalty Kill (12th in the NHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #88 Patrick Kane ~ 18G 27A = 45pts
2. #19 Jonathan Toews ~ 14G 17A = 31pts
3. #8 Nick Schmaltz ~ 12G 19A = 31pts
4. #12 Alex DeBrincat ~ 14G 13A = 27pts
5. #20 Brandon Saad ~ 13G 10A = 23pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #40 John Hayden ~ 43 PIM’s
2. #38 Ryan Hartman ~ 31 PIM’s
3. #19 Jonathan Toews ~ 30 PIM’s
1. #31 Anton Forsberg (3-5-0-3) 3.00GAA .910%SP
2. #30 Jeff Glass (2-1-0-1) 3.51GAA .908%SP
When I first saw it last week I did a double take. Chicago is at the bottom of the Central Division?!?! I thought to myself, it can’t be true, can it?
I realize the image is more than a little grainy but its still good enough to see Chicago in last place in the Central Division at the midway point of the 2017-18 season (at least when this image was taken on Monday, January 8th, 2018). A few days goes by and Chicago is in 5th and we’re in 6th, it was fun while it lasted right? It has been a long while since we’ve seen Chicago at the bottom of the division. So how did that happen?
The injuries to Marian Hossa and more importantly Corey Crawford have caused Chicago to struggle; especially at a time where the team’s key veterans are struggling to score. When Crawford has been in the lineup, he’s been sensational and giving top quality play between the pipes. The other culprit is the salary cap to a degree. The team couldn’t afford to keep Scott Darling and were forced to watch him leave via free agency to the Carolina Hurricanes. The team then tried to rekindle Jonathan Toews offensively by reuniting him with Brandon Saad but they had to part ways with Artemi Parnarin to do it. Toews hasn’t exactly been on fire and Saad has cooled off after a good start.
Patrick Kane has been good, but not the torrid pace he had a season ago with Parnarin on his line. Secondary scoring has been the struggle for Chicago who had grown used to being able to overwhelm opponents with 2 or 3 scoring lines. Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Sharp and Ryan Hartman haven’t quite chipped in consistently enough to make the difference of another mundane 1st half from Toews and Saad.
Defensively, the Blackhawks are still lead by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Connor Murphy and Jordan Oesterle may not have been glamorous additions to the lineup but they’ve helped round out the top four even if they don’t provide a lot of offensive ability.
Both Chicago and Minnesota have been inconsistent in effort and attention to detail which used to be strengths of each organization. The Blackhawks are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games while the Wild is 5-5-0. Chicago blitzed Ottawa 8-2 last night in Ottawa. All the Wild can hope is Chicago suffers from jet lag.
Minnesota is coming off a disappointing overtime loss to Calgary. While the Wild did managed to rally back from a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd to bring the game to overtime it still felt like another missed opportunity. When will this team learn that you can’t put Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter out at the same time during 3-on-3 overtime; because as soon as they go beneath the faceoff dots in the offensive zone you are sunk if you don’t score. Neither have the speed and often times the energy to hustle back.
The Wild are starting to feel the pressure in the standings now that we’re past the halfway point of the season. Minnesota has not been that great against divisional foes, going 6-8. Road games have also been painful as the Wild have gone 8-13-1. If you’d like a silver lining, Chicago has the worst inter-divisional record so far as they are 4-6-2.
Records aside, the Wild must find a way to win this game. Both for its confidence and facing a club that is tied with them in the standings it has the potential for a 4-point swing. With Nino Niederreiter out of the lineup with a lower body injury, the team must find more secondary scoring. (cough Charlie Coyle cough) Zach Parise hasn’t exactly been a big catalyst offensively since his return.
Mikael Granlund seems to be heating up offensively and Joel Eriksson Ek seems to be gaining more confidence and showcasing more of his versatility each game. He has had some decent opportunities but hasn’t been able to light the lamp. It’d be great to see him breakout this evening. Devan Dubnyk is sure to get the start after Alex Stalock played last night.
So what are the keys to a victory over Chicago tonight?
- Shut down Patrick Kane ~ It is always easier said than done, but the Wild must find a way to shut down Kane, perhaps the best ‘Wild killer’ since Jarome Iginla. The Blackhawks’ weakness is their secondary scoring and Kane is Chicago’s most dangerous player. Shutting Kane down forces Chicago to try to win with a group of inconsistent secondary scorers.
- Attack the net ~ It wasn’t that long ago that the Wild used to face a lot of backup goaltenders because for whatever reason Minnesota seemed to be rather kind and not pepper them with shots. Minnesota needs to attack the net, force Chicago to defend deep in their zone or take penalties trying to stop us. It doesn’t have to be pretty, get traffic near the paint and make Forsberg or Glass’ life miserable.
- Stay out of the Box ~ That might seem strange giving where the Wild’s penalty kill is rated, but its road penalty kill is below 80%. While Chicago’s power play may not seem that dangerous, the Wild must do what it can to stay out of the box, to conserve energy and not force the team to shorten its own bench.
What do you think the Wild must do to earn a big road victory in Chicago? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist or in the comment section below!