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Blackhawks Buzz: Battle for Central dominance continues against the Stars

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks


Five days after their previous meeting, the Blackhawks and Stars will continue their battle atop the Central Division when Dallas visits the United Center for the first time this season. Chicago dropped a 2-0 decision to San Jose in their return home on Tuesday after a controversial goal reversal that led to the briefest postgame conference of Head Coach Joel Quenneville's tenure, but the frustration of a shutout loss should be an additional motivating factor heading into Thursday's tilt. Dallas, meanwhile, staged a back-and-forth affair in Minnesota on Tuesday, eventually prevailing 4-3 in overtime to pull within three points of the Blackhawks for the division lead. In last Saturday's clash, the Blackhawks raced out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes and won handily, 5-1, despite taking six minor penalties.


Dallas' overtime victory on Tuesday was keyed by their young blueline phenom, John Klingberg, who scored at 2:39 of the 3-on-3 frame to give the Stars their fourth win in the last five games. The 23-year-old now shares second in the league with three overtime winners this season—trailing only Jonathan Toews, who leads with five—and has established a franchise record for defensemen with four OT tallies in his career. Klingberg moved into a share of second among NHL blueliners with 44 points, tying San Jose's Brent Burns and trailing just Ottawa's Erik Karlsson; his 35 helpers this season rank third. The Blackhawks can expect to see Klingberg and defense partner Alex Goligoski on the ice in all situations, and shutting down their efficiency in the neutral and offensive zones—both are well-suited to joining the rush—will go a long way to shutting down the Stars, who are the only team in the Western Conference to average more than three goals a game (3.22).


Finding the back of the net has been a frustrating endeavor for Marian Hossa at times this season. The 37-year-old is converting at a career-low 6.3 percent clip and has tallied just 10 goals despite taking 160 shots on goal, second-most on the team behind only Patrick Kane. Though Hossa continues to excel in the two-way game, it wasn't until January that he began putting up his customary points; in 14 games since Jan. 10, he's compiled 11 points (5G, 6A), comprising nearly 40 percent of his offensive production this season. Hossa's march toward 500 goals has picked up with two goals in his last three games, including a shorthanded tally on Saturday in Dallas, but even when he's not scoring, he's sending pucks toward net. Against the Sharks on Tuesday, Hossa registered 5 SOG—a team high—for the 11th time this season; he is one of two Blackhawks with more than 10 games recording at least 5 SOG.


Dallas' resurgence over the last two seasons has hinged on the development of a pair of young power forwards in captain Jamie Benn and former second-overall pick Tyler Seguin. Benn won the 2015 Art Ross Trophy after putting up 87 points (35G, 52A) last season, and he's poised to meet and possibly surpass that total with a club-high 61 points in 54 games, the second-highest total in the league behind Kane as of Wednesday afternoon. Three points behind Benn is linemate Tyler Seguin, who is also on pace to set offensive career highs this season. The 24-year-old leads the league with 23 even-strength goals, while Benn shares second in the NHL with 12 power-play tallies. Their combined 56 goals is an indication that it's tough to shut down both, and even when they're not scoring, they're adept at setting up teammates—on Tuesday in Minnesota, Benn and Seguin each collected a pair of helpers as they played a part in three of Dallas' four goals in the game.

5. TOP 40

While Benn, Seguin and Klingberg are undoubtedly the Stars' big guns, their offensive success has been buoyed by a couple of veteran forwards in Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp, who each have 40 points this season, making Dallas the only team in the league to boast five players with at least 40 points. Spezza was placed on injured reserve last Thursday, and the Stars will need some of their young forwards—including rookies Mattias Janmark and Radek Faksa, and 20-year-old Valeri Nichushkin—to make an impact in his absence. Sharp, meanwhile, has nearly matched his point total from 2014-15, his final season with the Blackhawks before being traded to Dallas in the offseason. The 34-year-old had a goal and an assist against the Blackhawks in the Stars' 4-0 win on Dec. 22, and Sharp could have an extra spring to his stride in his first regular-season return to the United Center as he tries to break out of a four-game dry spell (no points since the All-Star break).


With a powerhouse offense, young defense and a revamped goaltending duo, Dallas raced out in front of the pack, holding top spot in the Central for the first half of the season, but a January slide now has them chasing the Blackhawks. Chicago stumbled in Tuesday's homecoming, unable to break through San Jose's structured defensive setup after the disallowed goal, but they could have better luck when they face the Stars, who play with pace and aren't risk-averse, leading to plenty of scoring opportunities both for and against. Thursday's game—the third of five meetings this season—should be a barometer for both teams as well as a highly entertaining matchup, especially if Artemi Panarin returns from an illness that kept him out of Tuesday's tilt to round out Chicago's attacking unit.

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