1. CATCHING FIRE
Last Sunday, the Blackhawks used a quick burst of offense in the second period to take down the Calgary Flames at the United Center, as Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Artemi Panarin each scored in a span of less than 2 minutes in a 4-1 win. Friday, the two teams will meet again, this time in Western Canada. Both teams have played one game since that tilt; The Blackhawks beat Edmonton 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday in the first game of their six-game Circus Trip, extending their win streak to three games, while the Flames defeated the Devils 3-2 in Calgary on Tuesday.
2. JOHNNY B. GAUD
Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames’ diminutive second-year winger, leads the team in points with 18 through 20 games. He’s struggled lately, posting just one point in the past five games, but the 2011 fourth-round pick is still in elite company. Through his first 100 career games (Friday will be his 102nd NHL game) he’s netted 82 points; that’s seventh among active players in their first 100 games behind Hall of Fame caliber names like Sidney Crosby (132), Alexander Ovechkin (128), Evgeni Malkin (114), Patrick Kane (96), Nicklas Backstrom (86) and Jonathan Toews (83). Gaudreau has played four games against the Blackhawks in his career, registering two assists.
3. ROOKIE SENSATION
While Patrick Kane’s play continues to grab headlines—he paces the league in goals and points, and shares the lead in power-play goals and game-winning goals—his linemate Artemi Panarin is garnering plenty of attention himself. Not only is the Russian’s 21 points best among rookies, but it ties him for sixth among all players, alongside power forwards Taylor Hall and Blake Wheeler. The 24-year-old winger is coming off his third three-point performance (1G, 2A) of the season Wednesday in Edmonton and is riding a six-game point streak. During those six games, he’s tallied five goals and 10 points.
4. DARLS IN CHARGE
Scott Darling stopped 25 of 26 Flames shots last Sunday en route to his second win of the year. Joel Quenneville is hoping he can repeat that success after naming Darling Friday’s starter, with the Blackhawks facing the first of back-to-back games. Sunday’s win was a small bit of redemption for the Lemont native; in his two previous starts, both losses, Darling allowed a total of nine goals. In 17 career starts, Darling has an 11-6-0 record with a .928 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average. For Calgary, Karri Ramo will make his 10th straight start; the 29-year-old was impressive in last Sunday’s loss to Chicago, stopping 37 of 40 shots in the tilt.
5. STEPPING IN
Teuvo Teravainen played just 5:33 Wednesday in Edmonton and left the game early with an upper-body injury. Joel Quenneville said the second-year forward, who through 18 games has already matched his point total of nine from all 34 contests a year ago, “might miss a couple games.” That opens the door for Andrew Desjardins to get back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the last three games. Desjardins hasn’t tallied a point in 16 games this season and hasn’t been able to repeat the success he had during last year’s postseason on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw. Coach Q said he needs to see more consistency in Desjardins’ game, and Friday’s contest will be a prime opportunity.
The Blackhawks’ first two opponents on the Circus Trip are the two weakest in terms of points. They started the excursion with two points against Edmonton, the team with the fewest points in the league (13), and now they need to do the same against a Calgary team with just 15 points. Chicago’s top-level skill players need to take advantage early and capitalize on the Flames’ defensive struggles; Calgary has allowed a league-high 73 goals and the sport a -25 goal differential. If the Blackhawks can keep lighting the lamp at the same pace, and Darling can repeat the success from his last start, Chicago should be able to pick up two more points on their two-week tour of the Pacific Division.