Pop quiz: During the 2012-13 regular season, which team was the only Western Conference opponent to defeat the Blackhawks in every single meeting? It might surprise some to find out that the honor belonged to the Anaheim Ducks, who in fact have won the last five head-to-head matchups dating back to February 2012.
The Ducks are fresh off a 9-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday and riding an eight-game win streak—just their second-longest of the season. However, the three tilts against Anaheim last season were trench battles, as was the 3-2 shootout loss at the United Center earlier this season, so expect more of the same tonight.
Both the Blackhawks and the Ducks boast two players currently among the NHL’s top 10 scorers. Patrick Kane ranks third in the league with 56 points, and Patrick Sharp shares seventh with 49 points; longtime teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry rank fourth and fifth, respectively, with 55 and 53 points, so stopping that duo will help limit Anaheim’s third-ranked offense. Head Coach Joel Quenneville has never shied away from pursuing matchups between top lines while playing at the United Center, so Sharp and linemates Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa should see plenty of head-to-head ice time against Getzlaf and Perry.
In 17 career appearances against the Blackhawks, Ducks netminder Jonas Hiller has posted a 10-4-2 record with a 2.27 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Hiller has won his last four starts against Chicago, but even more importantly, the Swiss goalie has won 14 straight decisions dating back to Dec. 6—the second-longest single-season streak in NHL history. While he sat out Anaheim’s win on Wednesday due to illness, Hiller made the trip to Chicago and will likely start in net to try to extend that mark.
Even at age 43, the moniker “Finnish Flash” still fits Teemu Selanne, who announced last summer that the 2013-14 campaign would be his last. The Blackhawks are one of many opposing teams who are relieved to see him go, as Selanne has 65 points (32G, 33A) in 72 career appearances against Chicago, including 11 power-play goals and six game-winners. The NHL’s most seasoned veteran has played 15 of his 21 NHL seasons with Anaheim and won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.
Over the last two games, the Blackhawks have received significant contributions from a new-look second line that includes 2011 draft picks Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw. Saad has three assists in his last two games and ranks sixth on the team with a career-high 34 points (15G, 19A) in 49 games this season. Shaw also set career marks after tallying in two straight games and adding an assist on Tuesday against Colorado; he has 24 points (13G, 11A) in 47 games. Along with Kane, the second line will need to continue their strong play against an Anaheim defense that’s proven tough to crack in the past.
The league-leading Ducks will provide a litmus test for the Blackhawks, as they don’t seem to have many gaping holes. The top six on both sides are ridiculously talented, but it could be special teams efficiency, depth scoring and timely plays that swing the game one way or the other. Chicago is still searching for consistency in January, and staying out of the box will help—the Blackhawks gave up two power-play goals to Colorado in their last game, while Anaheim scored six times on a Vancouver penalty kill that had been the best in the league.