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Blackhawks Buzz: Kings bring stingy defense to United Center

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks


1. FIT FOR KINGS

The Blackhawks kick off the week with another tough matchup against a Western Conference frontrunner in the Los Angeles Kings. Although L.A. led the Pacific Division comfortably for most of the season, Anaheim's recent surge has resulted in a gap of just two points. The Kings just concluded a long homestand of their own with points in four of five outings, most recently a 2-1 overtime loss to New Jersey on Saturday. A season after winning just 15 games on the road (a big reason why they inexplicably missed the playoffs), L.A. has a 19-11-3 record and league-best 54.3 corsi percentage away from home this season. The Blackhawks defeated the Kings comfortably, 4-2, on Nov. 2 at the United Center, before dropping a 3-2 overtime decision on Nov. 28 in L.A. after allowing a two-goal lead slip. Chicago had a rough mother-son road trip last week, gaining just one point from games in St. Louis and Dallas and dropping to third in the Central Division, so regaining ground with a strong outing will be of utmost importance.

2. KOPING MECHANISM

Anze Kopitar's stature as one of the league's premier power forwards only continues to grow. At age 28, he's one of two or three centers in the league who has been a consistently dominant offensive lynchpin for his team, and 2015-16 should be the ninth consecutive season he'll lead the team in scoring. Kopitar currently leads the Kings with 31 helpers and 59 points and ranks second with 21 goals, including Los Angeles' lone score on Saturday against New Jersey, and posts dominant possession numbers while facing top competition every night alongside veteran sniper Jeff Carter and Milan Lucic, who joined the team from Boston last summer. Over the last five seasons, Kopitar's 59.3 CF% is highest among all league forwards, beating out Selke winners like Patrice Bergeron (2nd, 58.7%) and Pavel Datsyuk (5th, 58.2%). While Los Angeles has been one of the league's strongest possession teams over that span, there's no doubt Kopitar's effectiveness is a big part of that, and the Blackhawks will have their hands full against one of the most dominant lines in the league. (Stats via corsica.hockey)

3. TOFF CUSTOMER

In his third full season in the NHL, Tyler Toffoli has emerged as one of the best young snipers in the game, seeing his goal totals rise from 12 to 23 to a career-best 24 and counting. He's been especially noticeable on the man advantage, where he shares the team lead with nine tallies after seeing around a 30-second bump in power-play ice time per game this season. While playing behind bigger names, the 23-year-old has led the team in both even-strength goal and primary point production in his three full seasons (when scaled per 60 minutes), making him an important top-six contributor for a team that has title aspirations. Toffoli's hard, accurate shot, featuring an excellent wrister, means he can and will shoot from anywhere in the offensive zone, so defenders will need to take away his time and space in order to limit his looks.

4. TEUVO TIME

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Blackhawks' deadline moves was Teuvo Teravainen, who moved back to the center position and has flourished as a result, producing a goal and four assists over his last six games. The 21-year-old has 30 points in 65 games this season and has earned a regular power-play spot on the second unit, where he shares fifth with nine points (2G, 7A) this season. Teravainen has found some chemistry with new winger Tomas Fleischmann, and the duo was strong in Chicago's 5-2 loss in Dallas on Friday, tallying both goals in the game while combining for six individual shot attempts at even strength; Teravainen also drew a couple of penalties. As the Blackhawks gear up for the playoffs, they'll continue to count on the young Finn to play an important depth scoring role—similar to 2015, when he produced 10 points in 18 playoff tilts while skating mostly in the bottom six.

5. TO THE QUICK

L.A. netminder Jonathan Quick has begun rounding into playoff form over the last month, going 6-2-2 in his last 10 and allowing three or more goals in just three of those outings. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner has been especially impressive in 5-on-5 situations, letting in just eight pucks while stopping 182 of 190 shots for a .958 save percentage over that span. The percentages haven't been as pretty when the team is shorthanded, as Quick has allowed nine goals on 48 shots, and the Blackhawks will want to take advantage of all their power-play opportunities after going 0-for-5 against the Stars on Friday. Quick has not fared well against the Blackhawks, going 8-15-1 in 24 career appearances with a .906 SV%, although with his recent form, Chicago might need to manufacture a couple of fortunate bounces or greasy goals to get on the board.

THE FINAL WORD

The Central Division remains too close to call, and likely will until the final days of the season, but the Blackhawks can certainly make a statement with a win against the best of the Pacific Division on Monday. They'll need to be disciplined, however, with the way their penalty kill has struggled over the last month. Beating L.A. at even strength won't be easy, but they have the speed, depth and creativity to make life difficult for the visitors. The Kings bring a heavy, effective forecheck, and their physicality has a purpose: to separate player from puck and begin transition plays the other way. Therefore, puck support in all three zones will be key for Chicago to grind out a result against the stingiest team in the league.

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