1. NUCKING AROUND
The Blackhawks will face the Canucks on Sunday for the second of three regular-season meetings. Vancouver notched a 6-3 victory in the first meeting on Nov. 21, running away with the result after tallying three goals in the last 6 minutes of the third period; Jonathan Toews, Ryan Garbutt and Artem Anisimov scored for Chicago. The Canucks have won their last two tilts after dropping five straight, and Sunday's matchup marks the first stop of a six-game road trip. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks began their four-game homestand with a 2-0 blanking of Winnipeg on Friday, a contest that featured Patrick Kane picking up a point for the 25th straight game and matching the longest streak among active players, set by Sidney Crosby in 2010-11.
2. MILESTONE MEN
Sunday will be a momentous occasion for two Blackhawks players: Niklas Hjalmarsson is expected to skate in his 500th career game, while Marian Hossa is slated to make his 1,200th NHL appearance. Hjalmarsson, a fourth-round pick in 2005, has spent his entire career with Chicago, compiling 110 points (17G, 93A) and 1,187 shot blocks (per war-on-ice.com) while serving as an underrated part of the core that has won three Stanley Cups in six years. Hossa's career has taken him through Ottawa, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Detroit before he landed in Chicago as a free agent in the summer of 2009. In 424 games with the Blackhawks, the 1997 first-round pick has 350 points (152G, 198A), contributing to his career total of 1,069 points. Hjalmarsson has nine points in 30 games so far this season, including three helpers in his last four games, while Hossa has collected 13 points in 27 games, including an assist in Sunday's win.
Vancouver comes to town bearing one of the highest-scoring duos in the league in Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The twins combined for nine points against Chicago in their first meeting of the season—Daniel notched a hat trick, while Henrik posted a career-high five points, including four assists. Both Sedins have been point-per-game players for the Canucks this season, Daniel leading the club with 33 points in 30 games while Henrik has 29, and both have six points in their last five outings. Henrik assisted on both Vancouver goals in their 2-1 win over the Rangers on Wednesday, while Daniel tallied the game-winner and added an assist. Guarding against the Sedins will be a difficult task for the Blackhawks on Sunday, and they'll need to focus on taking away passing lanes when either has the puck and solid defensive positioning in their own zone.
4. POWER STRUGGLE
Both of Chicago's goals against Winnipeg came on the power play, as Jonathan Toews opened the scoring in the first period on a goalmouth scrum and Kane added the insurance goal off a cross-ice pass from Teuvo Teravainen in the second period. Entering Saturday's slate, the Blackhawks rank fifth in the league with a 22.2 percent power play, and it's the usual suspects providing that spark: Kane ranks second in the league with 10 power-play goals and leads all skaters with 15 power-play points, while Brent Seabrook has a respectable eight points with the man advantage. The Blackhawks' success begins with drawing penalties, as they share sixth in the league with 99 power-play opportunities, and they're +11 in penalty differential this season. However, Sunday's opponent is also prolific in that area, as Vancouver sports a league-high 111 power-play opportunities this season and have a +14 differential. The Cancuks tallied twice with the man advantage against Chicago on Nov. 21 and added a third into an empty net, so the Blackhawks will want to avoid going to the penalty box too many times on Sunday.
5. CAGE MATCH
Every team values stability in net, and Corey Crawford has given Chicago exactly that over the last few weeks. He authored a 25-save shutout on Friday and has allowed more than two goals in a game just once in his last seven starts dating back to Thanksgiving. Crawford has let in two goals over his current three-game win streak and has kept a clean sheet while shorthanded over that span, and the Blackhawks will need him to continue his strong play on Sunday against Vancouver, which put five pucks past him in their first meeting of the season. Across the ice, the Blackhawks will most likely be staring at Ryan Miller, who has been in net for 24 of 30 possible games this season. Although his record is a middling 9-9-6, Miller's .914 save percentage is his highest in three seasons, and he stopped 64 of 67 shots over his last two starts to help Vancouver break out of their losing slump.
THE FINAL WORD
Although Vancouver has enacted a partial youth revolution this season, they've been led by familiar faces in the Sedins, Miller and do-it-all defenseman Alexander Edler, so in one sense the identity of the team has not changed much. But beyond the top of the roster, Vancouver has a depth problem, made worse by current stints on IR for center Brandon Sutter and veteran defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Luca Sbisa. Chicago has found better scoring balance over the last few games, getting much-needed goal production from the Toews line, and they'll need their depth to come through on Sunday. If the defense can keep the Sedins quiet and Crawford gives his team another strong effort in net, the Blackhawks should be in good shape to gain two more points on their homestand.