With two days in between games, the Blackhawks should be well-rested ahead of Friday's tilt in Calgary, which will be the last of three meetings between the clubs this season. The Flames won 3-2 in a shootout on Oct. 24, and Chicago collected a 5-1 win on Nov. 1, with both tilts taking place at the United Center.
The Blackhawks dropped the opening tilt of the Circus Trip, a 4-0 loss in Winnipeg on Tuesday that snapped their 11-game point streak. It was the first time all season that the team failed to put at least two goals past their opponent, although they did put 27 pucks on target and 58 shot attempts overall. Chicago now faces a Flames team that ranks 26th in goals allowed per game (3.28), although they've been able to limit shots against (28.2 per game, 9th NHL).
Calgary has strung together two straight wins, snapping a four-game losing streak in the process. Backup goaltender Chad Johnson has done most of the legwork, stopping 48 of 49 shots in a 1-0 win over Minnesota on Tuesday and a 2-1 overtime victory against Arizona on Wednesday. Head Coach Glen Gulutzan may opt to go with the hot hand in Friday's tilt, but if not, the Blackhawks will face longtime Blues netminder Brian Elliott, who hasn't won in five starts dating back to Oct. 28.
The Flames might be on a small winning streak, but their firepower has been limited by an injury to Johnny Gaudreau, who was the team's leading scorer when he fractured his finger on Tuesday in Minnesota. The loss of one of the league's best playmakers certainly won't help Calgary climb back into a playoff spot-they sit two points out of the wild card-but the hope is that one of the team's many other young forwards can step up in Gaudreau's absence.
TO AND FRO
Winger Michael Frolik has been one of the Flames' most consistent skaters this season, and with a goal (the overtime winner) and an assist in Wednesday's win against Arizona, he now leads the team with six goals and 12 points in 18 games this season. The former Blackhawk also shares the league lead with two shorthanded goals, including Calgary's lone tally in their Nov. 1 loss to Chicago. With the injuries to Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg, Frolik has moved into a top 6 role; on Wednesday he skated with Mikael Backlund-his penalty-killing partner-and rookie Matthew Tkachuk, who also scored in the outing.
GET THE DEFENSES UP
One way the Flames may try to mitigate their flagging offensive numbers is by getting their defensemen consistently involved in the offensive zone, especially at even strength. Last season Calgary got career years from their captain Mark Giordano (21 goals and 56 points), T.J. Brodie (39 assists and 45 points) and former first-round pick Dougie Hamilton (12 goals, 43 points), even as the team missed the playoffs. So far this year, Giordano and Hamilton each have just six points in 18 games, while Brodie is sitting on three assists all season. Hamilton's suppressed numbers aren't for lack of trying, though, as he has a team-high 47 shots on goal, and Giordano's 42 SOG are fourth-best on the team.
HEALTH IS WEALTH
The Blackhawks got some good news on their own injury front on Thursday. Head Coach Joel Quenneville confirmed that rookie Tyler Motte was close to re-joining the team, perhaps as early as Saturday, while defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk is targeting next week's California leg for a return date. As for Vinnie Hinostroza, who left Tuesday's game in Winnipeg after being shaken up on a hit along the boards, Quenneville said he could be available against Calgary. The Blackhawks haven't been 100 percent healthy all season, so one thing to keep an eye on is any potential moves due to the 23-man restriction, as the team would be at 24 when van Riemsdyk returns.
CHI: Tyler Motte (upper body), Vinnie Hinostroza (upper body, day-to-day), Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body)
CGY: Johnny Gaudreau (finger), Kris Versteeg (groin, day-to-day), Lance Bouma (upper body)
Panik -- Toews -- Kane
Panarin -- Anisimov -- Hossa
Rasmussen -- Kruger -- Hartman
Desjardins -- Schmaltz -- Tootoo
Keith -- Campbell
Kempny -- Seabrook
Forsling -- Hjalmarsson