Blackhawks Look to Maintain Dominance Over Blue Jackets
The dreaded nine-game losing streak endured by a severely frustrated Chicago Blackhawks team came to an end on Thursday night with a victory over the best team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers.
Chicago now prepares to avoid a similar fate tomorrow afternoon when they are hosted by the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. This will be the fifth of six meetings between the two clubs.
Despite the obvious appearance of the NHL's last place team in the standings, the Columbus Blue Jackets are 4-2 in their last six games. Now that's not necessarily anything to write home about, but compared to what the Hawks just went through, coupled with the fact that there is no such thing as a "gimme win" in the NHL, anything can happen.
It's been a frustrating season so far for the Blue Jackets, who did not start the season off the way they may have wanted to and were forced to deal with a combination of suspensions and all sort of injuries. Columbus has yet to take a single point from the Blackhawks this season in four matches and have been outscored 20-8 over that span.
The Blue Jackets have struggled in almost every aspect of their game for the majority of the season, with the exception of special teams. They are in the bottom five group of teams in the NHL when it comes to offense and defense and are second to last in blocked shots. Aside from the fact that Rick Nash is having a less than impressive season by his standards, offseason acquisition Jeff Carter isn't producing and James Wisniewski can't stay healthy, the Blue Jackets have two players on their team with a plus-minus rating above zero.
However, despite their struggles, Columbus put together an impressive win on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues, one of the top teams in the Western Conference, by a score of 2-1. Steve Mason stopped 31 of 32 shots for his club in the win. If the Blue Jackets can build off this win and come out to play with the same intensity and focus in tomorrow's game, they will pose a significant challenge for Chicago.
Now that the Blackhawks can stop worrying about when their terrible losing streak is going to end, they can get back to focusing on just playing hockey. Sometimes, when a team finds themselves in a bit of a slump, it becomes such a distraction when it's the main focus for so long, it's hard to break out of.
The Blackhawks have now put together two very impressive efforts in back to back games against two very good opponents in the Nashville Predators and the New York Rangers. Though it still appears that Chicago could benefit from additional defensive help acquired through a trade by the deadline, the recent play of Sami Lepisto and Dylan Olsen have allowed the desperation for acquiring a veteran defenseman in the next two weeks to ease a little.
Realistically, the Blackhawks will have to be an impressive team for the remaining stretch of the regular season if they want to secure a playoff spot sooner than they did last season. It's going to be all the more difficult to do that with so many teams still within reach of the final playoff spot so every point counts. It would behoove the Blackhawks to give everything they have to maintain this level of play throughout the remainder of the season, or it's going to be a long summer.
Keep An Eye Out For -
Viktor Stalberg: He has seven goals and eight points in just four games against the Blue Jackets this season. Let's see if he can continue that hot streak.
Dave Bolland: He's been a bit quiet of late, but he has two goals and five points in his three games against Columbus this year.
Chicago's PK: The Hawks' PK has not been impressive in the least this season, however, it stumped all seven of New York's power plays on Thursday night.
Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson are still likely to miss tomorrow's game for Chicago. Columbus has a whole laundry list of injuries that includes Radek Martinek, Curtis Sanford, Kristian Huselius, Nikita Nikitin, Brett Lebda, Marc Methot, and Jared Boll.