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Blackhawks Buzz: Divisional tilt perfect opportunity to get back in win column

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks


1. BLUE STREAK

A divisional tilt against St. Louis could be what the Blackhawks need in order to get back into the win column. Chicago dropped both of their games in Florida, putting an abrupt end to their franchise-record 12-game winning streak, and scored just once in those two contests, so a big priority for the Blackhawks on Sunday is regaining their offensive rhythm, both at even strength and on the power play, where they've struggled to sustain zone time and generate shots. The Blues last played on Friday night in Colorado, a tightly contested matchup that ended in a shootout loss for St. Louis, extending their point streak to four games; Alex Steen scored their lone goal. The two sides have split their two matchups so far this season, as the Blues were victorious in a come-from-behind 6-5 overtime effort on Nov. 4 at the United Center, while the Blackhawks notched a 4-2 victory 10 days later in St. Louis.

2. ROBBY SOCKS

The Blues have gotten impressive production from several young newcomers this season, including forward Robby Fabbri, who in his first NHL campaign has 11 goals, fourth on the team. Though undersized, the 20-year-old can beat opponents with speed and skill, as he did in St. Louis' comeback 6-5 victory over the Blackhawks on Nov. 4, when he posted a goal and an assist for his first career multi-point game. The 2014 first-round pick has been playing left wing on the Blues' second line alongside Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko, a trio that packs more skill than physicality, and as of Thursday he ranks fourth among team forwards with a 52.6 corsi percentage (per war-on-ice.com), an impressive feat for a rookie.

3. ART OF SCORING

The last player to score a goal for the Blackhawks is center Artem Anisimov, who tallied 34 seconds into Thursday's game in Tampa for his 17th marker of the season. In his first campaign with Chicago, the 27-year-old is five goals away from matching his career high, set in 2013-14 with Columbus, and he's achieved those numbers this season largely by playing a heavy-duty game at both ends of the ice. The hands that Anisimov has shown around the paint and his ability to maneuver in tightly defended spaces has been an offensive asset, and his strong backchecking instincts has kept the second line on the right side of the puck more often than not. As a line, he along with wingers Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, have controlled around 55 percent of shot attempts this season, but perhaps their biggest asset is their consistency, as that trio is the only one to remain intact for the entire season thus far. The Blackhawks will once again need their most productive line to lead the way in order to break out of their mini-slump.

4. COLT 55

Another emerging star on the Blues roster is 22-year-old defenseman Colton Parayko, who has enjoyed a breakout campaign with 19 points (6G, 13A) in 47 games, sharing first among rookie defensemen in the league. He also ranks third in that group with 19:10 of ice time per game. Parayko missed Wednesday's game in Detroit with illness and returned on Friday with limited ice time, playing just 12:41 against Colorado and taking just two shifts in the third period. He ranks second on the team with a 54.6 Corsi percentage, while being deployed a fair amount in all three zones. St. Louis has counted on the rookie a fair amount this season to get involved in the offensive zone and utilize his heavy shot, adding another dangerous element to the team's deep, mobile blue line.

5. CAGE MATCH

Chicago has scored just once in their last two games, and St. Louis isn't faring much better, tallying three goals in their last two outings. The forecast doesn't bode well for a high-scoring tilt on Sunday, especially because both teams have benefited from excellent goaltending in recent weeks. Crawford has allowed two or fewer goals in his last five starts, and Blues starter Brian Elliott has been equally impressive with just eight goals allowed in his last four starts; he's been carrying the load for St. Louis with Jake Allen nursing a knee injury, and stopped 40 of 41 shots on Friday in Colorado. Both netminders rank in the top eight in the league in save percentage and are thriving, so Sunday's contest may come down to a couple fortuitous bounces.

THE FINAL WORD

Jonathan Toews said after Friday's shutout loss that "for the second night in a row, we didn’t match that speed and that pace," referring to the slow starts and lackluster finishes that plagued the Blackhawks in Florida. Chicago will need to establish their brand of possession-oriented hockey early to avoid falling behind, and cutting out miscues in the defensive zone will be crucial against a St. Louis squad that has plenty of scoring power, led by Tarasenko and Steen on their top two lines. The Blues always bring a heavy game to the United Center, meaning that simply getting a lead won't be enough to make them fold—the Blackhawks will need to give a 60-minute effort in order to dispatch their divisional archrivals and prevent them from gaining any more ground in the standings.

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