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Blackhawks Buzz: Beyond second line, team still searching for goal production

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks


1. SENS AND SENSIBILITY

After falling 2-1 to Minnesota on Tuesday, the Blackhawks jetted off to Canada's capital for a quick jaunt against the Senators, who sit in third place in the Atlantic Division after a good start to the season. The Sens have lost their last two after winning four straight, most recently dropping a 4-2 decision to Philadelphia. Chicago won both meetings in 2014-15, including a 5-4 shootout victory in Ottawa on a milestone night for former Sens draft pick Marian Hossa, who recorded his 1,000th NHL point in the contest. Ottawa has been one of the league's highest-scoring teams, averaging 3.13 goals per game, despite ranking in the bottom 10 in shot generation. To stop them, the Blackhawks will need to keep their opponents out of high-danger areas and limit the time they spend in the defensive zone, something they haven't been able to do consistently in their last three tilts.

2. 65 LOVE AFFAIR

The biggest reason for the Sens' start is the play of reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who is putting in a strong bid to be the first repeat recipient since fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom won three straight from 2006-08. Karlsson's team-leading 26 points share sixth overall in the NHL (entering Wednesday), while his 21 assists are tied for third. Between his elite skating and ability to control play in the offensive zone, he's emerged as one of the best possession-driving defensemen in the league over the last six years. Perhaps Karlsson's value is best expressed through his team-leading 7.5 percent relative Corsi (per war-on-ice.com): When he's on the ice, Ottawa is above even in shot attempts; when he's not, that number drops to 43 percent, one of the most drastic differences among top blueliners in the NHL. Good news for the Senators—Karlsson plays over 27 minutes a night, giving his team opportunities to create scoring chances nearly every time he takes a shift.

3. ON THE HOFF CHANCE

After a breakout 2014-15 campaign to the tune of 27 goals and 21 assists, Mike Hoffman has emerged as one of Ottawa's most consistent offensive producers and one of the more underrated snipers in the league. He tallied his 11th goal of the season on Tuesday against the Flyers to match the team lead, and now has seven goals and three assists in his last seven contests. Hoffman is known for his speed, and a quick, accurate shot that can often be deceptive, and playing on Ottawa's top line with Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan has allowed him to display his skill set to the fullest this season. The trio has combined for 30 goals this season, accounting for 40 percent of the team's offense, so keeping Hoffman and company off the scoresheet will be Chicago's top defensive priority on Thursday.

4. 20 AND COUNTING

Chicago's lone goal on Monday was scored by Patrick Kane, who received the puck off a brilliant takeaway by Duncan Keith and out-waited Devan Dubnyk before sliding the puck through the five-hole to extend his career-long point streak to 20 games. Earlier that day, he was named the NHL's First Star for the month of November after picking up 23 points (8G, 15A) in 13 games. On Thursday in Ottawa, the league's leading point-getter can tie Bobby Hull's franchise record, which was set from Dec. 5, 1971 to Jan. 23, 1972. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Kane is the fourth player to record a point streak of 20 or more games since 1997-98. While his line with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov has certainly been the Blackhawks' best offensive weapon this season, Head Coach Joel Quenneville would like the other three lines to start putting chances in the back of the net, telling reporters after Wednesday's practice, "A lot of guys are close...but it doesn't count in hockey."

5. CRAIG'S LIST

Since being acquired via trade during the 2010-11 season, Craig Anderson has been more or less a mainstay in Ottawa's net, but the results have been mixed, due to a few injury-ravaged campaigns. This year, the 34-year-old has gotten off to a good—though somewhat inconsistent—start, posting a 10-6-3 record in 19 games. Anderson is 4-2-0 in his last six starts, completing two shutouts to begin that run but allowing 14 goals over the next four. He has helped Ottawa kill off all but one penalty in that span, however, and his .894 SV% while shorthanded this season ranks sixth in the league (min. 12 games played) despite facing 104 shots, second-most among netminders. The Park Ridge, Ill., native has faced the team that drafted him 10 times in his career, logging a 5-2-3 record and .911 SV%.

THE FINAL WORD

Even-strength play, normally a trademark for the Blackhawks, has not been their forte over the first quarter of the season. Although Chicago is netting a respectable 2.72 goals per game, that number drops to 1.44 at 5-on-5, ranking in the bottom third of the league. Thursday's matchup, against a team that relies heavily on one defensive pairing and allows the most shots in the league, should provide plenty of opportunities for the Blackhawks to find their scoring touch beyond what the Anisimov line has continuously provided. The Senators have outstanding scorers of their own, however, so Chicago will need to take advantage of mismatches in depth in order to gain two points and regain some confidence on the offensive side of the puck.

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