Beginning Sunday, six of the Blackhawks' next eight games are at home as they finish up a typically heavy home schedule before heading out on their annual Circus Trip. It's a good opportunity for the team to find their rhythm and start to separate themselves from the pack in a predictably tight Central Division.
A tilt against the Los Angeles Kings is always a tough assignment due to the their stellar team defense, which has allowed just 25.6 shots per game as of Saturday. L.A. plays with structure in all three zones and utilizes a heavy forecheck on all four lines, and through the first couple weeks of the season they've been the best in the league at controlling even-strength play, posting a dominant 58.1 shot attempt percentage (via corsica.hockey).
The Blackhawks are returning home after a 3-2 overtime win in New Jersey, which once again required come-from-behind heroics. Marian Hossa scored a late power-play goal to draw the teams level, before Artem Anisimov netted the winner off a brilliant setup by Artemi Panarin early in overtime; the goal extended his point streak to a career-best six games. The Kings arrive in town after having a four-game win streak snapped on Saturday in a 1-0 loss to St. Louis.
Injuries to key players have taken their toll on the Kings to begin the season. It started at the World Cup of Hockey, when top-six winger Marian Gaborik sustained a foot injury that would rule him out until November at the earliest. Then starting netminder Jonathan Quick had to leave the season opener with a groin injury and is out indefinitely; two games later, backup Jeff Zatkoff also joined the IR ranks with a lower-body injury.
Third-string netminder Peter Budaj has plenty of NHL experience, having 303 games on his resume. The 34-year-old made 24 saves on 25 shots against the Blues on Saturday, many of them dangerous scoring chances; the loss was his first of the season. With L.A. playing their first back-to-back of the season, the Blackhawks could face either Budaj or 24-year-old Jack Campbell, who only has one NHL appearance (with Dallas in 2013).
The organization announced that Hossa would be honored for his 500 NHL goals prior to Sunday's game. The 37-year-old became the 44th player in league history to reach the plateau, and the fifth to do so as a Blackhawk after Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Michel Goulet and Peter Bondra. Since arriving in Chicago, Hossa has won three Stanley Cups and reached some widely celebrated milestones, including his 1,000th career point and 1,200th career game. Hossa has more landmarks in sight: He's six points away from 1,100 and seven assists away from 600 assists.
The Kings have gotten healthy contributions from their blue line this season, although the top point-getter is a bit of a surprise. While reigning Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty does have two goals and two assists in eight games, it's 29-year-old Alec Martinez who leads the entire team with seven points (2G, 5A) to start the season. Doughty and Martinez, along with fellow blueliners Jake Muzzin and Tom Gilbert, are mobile puck-movers and are inclined to join in the play, something the Blackhawks will need to be aware of during transition plays.
CHI: Gustav Forsling (upper body), Andrew Desjardins (lower body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body)
LAK: Jonathan Quick (groin), Marian Gaborik (foot), Brayden McNabb (upper body)
Panik -- Toews -- Kane
Panarin -- Anisimov -- Hossa
Motte -- Kruger -- Schmaltz
Tootoo -- Rasmussen -- Hinostroza
Keith -- Campbell
Seabrook -- Hjalmarsson
Kempny -- Rozsival