The Chicago Blackhawks are probably stinging from that comeback-that-wasn’t against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. The good news is there’s no time for sulking, as they host the Anaheim Ducks tonight at the United Center.
Antti Raanta will get his first home start of this season and his third start since joining the Blackhawks last month. Michal Handzus, who was out sick the past two games, is back tonight. Andrew Shaw (upper body) is out but coach Joel Quenneville expects him to play Sunday vs. the Florida Panthers.
The Ducks, meanwhile, will be no easy foe (ah, you thought we were going to say fowl, didn’t you? That’s terrible). The massive travel may have calmed but the Blackhawks’ overall game schedule is still busy as ever. So while the Blackhawks shake off any fatigue they may have as they enter another back-to-back, we look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s game.
1. Don’t underestimate the dinged-up Ducks. Anaheim has lost 150 man games due to injuries and they’ll still be without some top players tonight, including Sheldon Souray (wrist) and Francois Beauchemin (upper body). But don’t assume the Ducks will be pushovers. They have collected points in six of their last seven games and, entering tonight, are fourth in the Western Conference (three points and three spots behind the Blackhawks). They’ll play tough again tonight, no matter who’s in or out of the lineup.
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2. Get the energy going early. While mistakes have crept into the Blackhawks’ last two games, their energy has been hit-or-miss. It’s been especially AWOL during their first periods. The Blackhawks need to get back in the victory column and they need to have strong 20-minute openings again.
3. Help Raanta through some nerves. Yes, Raanta’s been cool and calm on the road, where he picked up his first two NHL career victories. But he admits there’s always some nerves there, and playing his first game at the United Center may bring some of those out tonight. If the Blackhawks play a strong team game in front of him, however, he should be fine.
4. Get confidence in that penalty kill again. The Blackhawks’ kill was starting to get some confidence, but it went awry against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, allowing two more power-play goals. The Ducks’ power play is as rough this season as the Blackhawks’ was last year (23rd in the league overall, 26th on the road). So if the Ducks do go on the advantage, the Blackhawks need to complete a few confidence-building kills.
5. OK, we were off on the pick to click for Thursday. But today is another day. And since Patrick Kane is in the midst of another point streak, we see him adding to it tonight.