Ah, the second half of the regular season begins. It coincides with 2013’s end, at least to the Chicago Blackhawks’ schedule in it. And what a 2013 it has been, from the Blackhawks’ start out of the lockout to their second Stanley Cup in four seasons to their having a great start to this season.
But the tough year-end opponents continue for the Blackhawks, who host the Los Angeles Kings tonight. While Corey Crawford is close to returning, Antti Raanta will get the start tonight. Martin Jones is expected to start for the Kings.
So before you pop those champagne bottles and prep the aspirin for the following day, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Kings-Blackhawks game.
1. The Blackhawks should prepare for an angry Kings team, who has lost its last two games. The Kings gave up eight goals in those two contests, including five to the Dallas Stars. They’ll also be coming with Jones, who has been incredibly stingy this season (8-1-0 with a 1.31 goals-against average and .953 save percentage).
2. Raanta with a rebound. Antti Raanta has had some good games in his brief time with the Blackhawks. Saturday night’s outing in St. Louis wasn’t one of them. Raanta will take more of a backup role once Crawford returns – he should remain up here – but he’ll want to end his “starting” job with a bang. As Raanta said earlier today, “there are a lot of games still to play and a lot of pucks to save.” So a strong rebound effort should be in the cards.
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3. Patrick Kane just keeps on going with his latest point streak, and we see it continuing again tonight. Kane’s currently scored in 14 consecutive games, a career mark for him. Kane is only four contests away from tying the games-with-points record for U.S.-born players (18), held by Phil Kessel and former Blackhawks player/current broadcaster Eddie Olczyk.
4. Learn from the last game. The Blackhawks got a little complacent, a little sloppy and a little undisciplined in the closing minutes against St. Louis on Saturday night, and it cost them. Granted, they do that pretty infrequently, but it was still there nonetheless. But there aren’t many teams that rebound from tough games the way the Blackhawks do, and they’ll be focused on doing that tonight.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Duncan Keith. It may not be with goals as much as it could be with assists and overall play, but we think Keith will keep building on his already great start with another big game this evening.