1. DUCKS IN A ROW
The Blackhawks' homecoming hasn't gone the way they would like, as they suffered consecutive losses to San Jose and Dallas last week, and the task doesn't get easier on Saturday when they face the surging Anaheim Ducks, who have recovered from a dreadful start to the season and now sit firmly in third place in the Pacific Division. The Blackhawks allowed four goals to the Stars in the first 20 minutes on Thursday, three of them by Patrick Eaves, and had their third-period rally fall short despite logging a 21-2 shot differential. The Ducks collected a point on Thursday in a 4-3 shootout loss in Columbus and now have a least a point in eight of their last nine outings. Anaheim's surge up the standings was powered by a six-game win streak from Jan. 20-Feb. 5, in which they outscored their opponents 25-12. The Blackhawks have won both previous tilts against the Ducks this season in overtime: a 1-0 result on Oct. 26 and a 3-2 victory on Nov. 27, and if those meetings were any indication, Saturday's contest should be a tightly fought, low-scoring affair with plenty of physicality.
2. KANE'S WORLD
Patrick Kane's slapshot goal in the third period of Thursday's game was his 33rd of the season, building upon a career high. The 27-year-old continues to lead the league with 77 points in 58 games, his best production since 2009-10 when he collected 88 points in 82 games, and the second-highest total of his career with 24 regular-season games left on the schedule. Kane also paced the team with seven shots on goal against Dallas and led forwards with 21:56 of ice time as Chicago tried to make a late comeback. Tuesday and Thursday's tilts were the first time all season that Kane has not skated across from rookie Artemi Panarin, who is out with an illness that Head Coach Joel Quenneville hopes isn't serious. In the meantime, Kane and Artem Anisimov will need to find some chemistry on the second line with a rotating cast of wingers, which have included Teuvo Teravainen, Richard Panik and Andrew Desjardins.
3. IT GETZ BETTER
One of the problems plaguing Anaheim at the start of the season was the lack of scoring, most notably from captain Ryan Getzlaf. His goal total hasn't quite picked up—he's found the back of the net just five times in 49 games, after totaling 56 goals over the last two seasons—but in the absence of goals, he's lent a helping hand in a big way. Heading into Friday's schedule, Getzlaf's 35 helpers are tied for seventh in the league, and he has nearly twice as many assists as the next-best teammate, Sami Vatanen (19), while still leading the Ducks with 40 points and pacing forwards with a 56.5 shot attempt percentage. In his 12 NHL seasons, Getzlaf has only logged a shooting percentage in the single digits twice: in 2010-11 (6 percent) and this year (5 percent), so it's safe to say that the paucity of goals coming off his stick is a bit of an anomaly. The Blackhawks will still need to be wary of him when he's on the ice, as his size and skill make it difficult for defenders to strip him of the puck, and he's found chemistry with current linemates David Perron (see next note) and Chris Stewart.
4. ON THE MOVE
The Ducks have made a number of moves in an attempt to shore up their offense, including acquiring Ryan Garbutt from the Blackhawks in exchange for Jiri Sekac. Garbutt has been productive for Anaheim, posting four points in his first eight games with the club; he scored his third goal with the Ducks on Thursday in Columbus. A more major move that has paid off for Anaheim so far is the addition of Perron from Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old picked up points in each of his first four games after the trade and most recently contributed a goal and an assist against the Blue Jackets, ending a three-game span without a point. Overall, Perron has 10 points in 10 games with the Ducks and has slotted in well on the top line.
5. NET GAINS
One adjustment that Head Coach Bruce Boudreau made to account for his team not scoring much was to adopt a more conservative game plan in order to limit chances in their own end of the ice, and for the most part that has helped the Ducks steer the ship back on course. They've also benefited from one of the better goalie tandems in the league in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, who made his first trip to the All-Star Game last month. Andersen is 6-0-2 in 10 appearances in 2016, posting a .939 save percentage, and he's allowed more than two goals just once in that span (Thursday in Columbus). Gibson, despite a poor performance in his last outing in Pittsburgh, has been the perfect backup to Andersen, logging a 12-8-2 record with four shutouts this season. Each has faced the Blackhawks once this season, and each brings a different challenge for opponents—Andersen due to his size, and Gibson due to his athleticism.
THE FINAL WORD
Both Chicago and Anaheim would like to come out strong in Saturday's showdown; the Blackhawks want to get back on track after letting their lead in the Central Division dwindle to just one point over Dallas, who have three games in hand, while the Ducks want to keep charging up the Pacific standings and prove that they're still a team to be feared once the Western Conference playoff picture takes shape. Dating back to last season's playoff series, the two sides have contested some grinding yet high-tempo games, and perhaps facing one of the heaviest and most physical teams in the league will awaken the Blackhawks' offensive instincts. Even if Panarin re-joins the lineup, Chicago needs everyone to contribute in order to get back on track, and depth scoring could prove to be the difference on Saturday against a Ducks roster that's fairly top-heavy.