The Anaheim Ducks have given the Chicago Blackhawks a headache for the better part of two seasons. The games have been close, tough and entertaining, but the Ducks have come out on the better end of most of them.
Lately, however, the Blackhawks aren’t the only ones struggling to beat Anaheim. The Ducks’ victory here on Dec. 6 started them on their current 18-1-0 run, which includes eight consecutive victories entering tonight. The Blackhawks are looking up at the Ducks in the standings, too — Anaheim leads the Western Conference with 77 points, and the Blackhawks are second with 71. Indeed, the big test has arrived again.
“They’re firing on all cylinders, and they have a lot of assets in their favor,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Anaheim. “They’re fast, they’re big and they’re quick. We have to be good in all areas. Everybody’s excited about the test, and let’s be ready.”
As expected, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook will play tonight. Corey Crawford will start for Chicago, and Jonas Hiller is expected to do the same for Anaheim. So while we do some California dreamin’ (at least about the weather), take a look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Ducks-Blackhawks game.
1. Get back to your game. We all know the Blackhawks’ method of success: speed, speed and more speed. The Ducks make it a point to get the Blackhawks out of that mode and into theirs, which is part of why they’ve had a hold over Chicago lately. As Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said, “If you get into a run-and-gun game with these guys you’re going to be in trouble. We’ve stuck to our structure well, and we’ll have to do that again tonight.” If the Blackhawks get into their structure, they’ll have the edge.
2. Take advantage of your building. The Ducks are good anywhere this season, but they’ve saved their best for the Honda Center, where they’re an astounding 20-0-2. On the road, they’re 16-8-3. The Blackhawks need to get a strong start, get the crowd into it and keep them involved tonight.
3. Keep that second line rolling. The Blackhawks might be onto a good thing with that second-line combination of Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane. The top line has slowed its torrid offensive pace lately, so this line’s contributions will be especially welcome tonight.
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4. Don’t leave the focus solely on Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. A big reason for the Ducks’ success this season has been getting offense from across the board and not just their top players (sound familiar, Blackhawks fans?). The Ducks have a lot of weapons throughout the lineup, so the Blackhawks will have their hands full.
5. Who’s our pick to click? Patrick Sharp’s goal scoring has gone quiet since his hat trick against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 3. We think he gets back into that column again tonight.