BLUE JACKETS (9-21-4) at BLACKHAWKS (22-9-4)
TV: FS-O (HD), CSN-CH
Last 10: Columbus 3-6-1; Chicago 8-1-1
Season series: Chicago has taken the first two games of the season series with its division rival, the most recent being a 6-3 win over Columbus on Nov. 10 at Nationwide Arena.
Big story: It would be hard to find two teams with more different fortunates this season than the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets. Chicago has bounced back from its up-and-down and ultimately unsuccessful Cup defense to emerge as one of the elite teams in the League this season, while Columbus, full of promise for a franchise-changing season, has stumbled to the bottom of the standings. There is little time for the Jackets to turn things around, but doing so against the best of the west could be the best way to start it.
Blue Jackets: A season that started with so much hope has quickly gone sour in Columbus, and one of the major reasons for that optimism, forward Jeff Carter, who was acquired from Philadelphia in the offseason, is one of the major reasons for the team's southward direction as well. Carter missed much of the season's first two months with a broken foot, but now that he's back in action he is finally delivering, a fact that became apparent when he scored a hat trick in the first period agaisnt Nashville Thursday night.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, the outburst was wasted as Nashville rallied with four goals to steal a 6-5 win. The disappointment has been all too commong for Columbus, which, with 22 points, is at the very bottom of the NHL standings. A win over the Blcakhawks won't turn the situation around in one night, but it would still be a step in the right direction.
Blackhawks: Many thought Chicago would be good this season, but did the pundits think they'd be quite this good? The Blackhawks have lost just one game in regulation this month, a hot streak that has propelled them atop the Western standings with a four-point edge over St. Louis in the Central Division. Marian Hossa has been among the most potent of a potent offense lately, tallying 12 points in his last seven games, but on a team that leads the West in goals he is far from the only contributor as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp remain among the top offensive players in the West.
As Chicago plays the second game of a five-game homestand Monday night, the Hawks could be poised to build up an even bigger cushion in the standings. They're currently on a season-best four-game winning streak at the United Center, which was punctuated by a 5-1 toppling of Montreal in their last game Wednesday night. With a relatively soft lineup of opponents filling out the end of their stay in the Windy City, the Blackhawks could be in for a smooth ride into 2012.
Who's Hot: Despite Columbus' struggles, Carter is paying the dividends that were expected when he was brought in in the offseason. He's scored seven goals in his last seven games. ... Viktor Stalberg may be giving Chicago yet another offensive weapon, having tallied five points in his last three games.
Injury Report: Marcus Kruger is questionable for Chicago with a head injury following a check last week by Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland. Daniel Carcillo is still on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Columbus will still be without Kristian Huselius, who is still at least a week away from returning from his groin injury.
Stat Pack: If the Jackets want to know why they've struggled to win games, they ought to take a peak at how they're finishing them. Columbus has been outscored 46-23 in the third period this season -- a 2-to-1 margin.
Puck Drop: For the Blue Jackets to avoid the draft lottery and make any move toward the postseason, they'll have to get on the winning side of things as soon as they can. Doing so in Chicago might be as difficult a starting point as they could have asked for. Not only have the Hawks been strong at home lately, but their mark against the Jackets is even stronger. Chicago has outscored Columbus by a combined total of 11-5 in their two meetings this season.