After a thrilling comeback victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Blackhawks return to action against Calgary on Monday. Trailing 4-2 late in the game, Chicago tallied twice in the span of 60 seconds to tie the score and force overtime, eventually prevailing 5-4 in a shootout. The Flames also played on Saturday, losing 6-4 to St. Louis at home after their own late comeback attempt fell short.
With the loss, Calgary dropped to 1-4-1 through six games, an inauspicious start under new head coach Glen Gulutzan. The team has made the playoffs just once in the last seven seasons-in 2015, when then-rookie Johnny Gaudreau and team captain Mark Giordano led the team to a third-place finish in the Pacific before losing to Anaheim in the second round. But with Gaudreau leading a pack of young forwards and a new starting goaltender in Brian Elliott, the Flames hope to put together a strong campaign to challenge for a playoff spot.
Monday's tilt also marks the Blackhawks' annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night. Click here for more info, including video spots and game-night activities.
GETTING THEIR DUE
Center Artem Anisimov and winger Richard Panik aren't your typical headline grabbers, but it's safe to say that both players have Blackhawks fans paying attention this season. As the unheralded member of Chicago's ultra-productive second line, Anisimov is more accustomed to toiling at both ends of the ice in order to free up his wingers, but he's put together a four-game point streak (4G, 4A) after being held without a point in his first two outings of the season. The 28-year-old tied a career best with four points last Wednesday against Philadelphia, then scored twice on Saturday, including the first of two goals in Chicago's dramatic late comeback.
The other goal, of course, belonged to Panik, who has thrived after being slotted in a prime position to start the season-namely, on Jonathan Toews' wing. Acquired from Toronto last season, Panik wasn't even on the Leafs' NHL roster at the time, but has now achieved in six games the same point production that he managed in 30 regular-season games with Chicago last year. The Slovakia native tallied his first NHL hat trick by taking advantage of close-range opportunities against the Flyers, and on Saturday he got to the front of the net once again to clean up a loose puck against the Leafs for the late equalizer. Panik now paces the NHL with six goals in six games, and while there's no expectation for him to maintain that kind of scoring pace, he's shown so far that he has the speed and the smarts to play on Chicago's top line.
Since making his debut in 2014-15, Gaudreau has been one of the most exciting players in the league, with the type of skill that can break a game wide open. His offensive production has been among the best in the league over that time, sharing 17th in the NHL with 0.88 points per game; he's one of three players aged 23 or younger to be in the top 30 (C. McDavid, N. Kucherov). The 2011 fourth-round pick has suffered from bad puck luck so far this season, recording a goal and two assists while leading the team with 18 shots on goal. Gaudreau and frequent linemate Sean Monahan haven't put up strong possession numbers, either, and that line has rotated through several wingers early on, indicating that Gulutzan hasn't found a combination that works for him. But Gaudreau can be dangerous even with limited zone time, and he has a whole separate highlight reel for 3-on-3 action if the game gets to that point-Calgary's only win over Chicago last season came on the back of an unassisted Gaudreau goal after he danced around the Blackhawks in overtime.
HELLO OLD FRIENDS
The Blackhawks will see some familiar faces on Monday, with a couple of them donning Flames sweaters for the first time. After accumulating 39 points in 82 regular-season tilts last year with St. Louis, Troy Brouwer had a productive playoff run, posting eight goals and five assists, including the game-winner that ended Chicago's Stanley Cup hopes in Game 7 of the first round. The 32-year-old, originally a seventh-round pick by the Blackhawks in 2004, signed a four-year deal with Calgary in the offseason and will figure prominently in the Flames' top six as well as on their power play. Brouwer currently shares the team lead with three goals and four points through six games.
On Saturday against St. Louis, Brouwer's opposite winger was another former Blackhawk, Kris Versteeg, who signed with Calgary after a preseason stint with the Edmonton Oilers and has two goals and a helper this season; both of his goals came against the Blues. The third former Blackhawk on the Flames roster is Michael Frolik, who's in his second season with the club. The 28-year-old is versatile enough to play up and down the lineup, and he could slot in on the top line alongside Gaudreau and Monahan or in a primarily checking role against his former teammates.
The Blackhawks gave up their league-worst 12th power-play tally of the season on Saturday against the Leafs, dropping their penalty-kill percentage to 42.9, perhaps the worst PK stretch of Head Coach Joel Quenneville's tenure in Chicago. If there's a a bit of relief in sight for the beleaguered shorthanded units, it's the arrival of Calgary's paltry power play, which has clicked at just 4 percent through six games. In fact, the Flames have allowed the same number of goals while on the power play (1) as they've scored, even with a stacked first power-play unit-featuring Gaudreau, Monahan and Giordano-and 37 SOG. Calgary does share the NHL lead with 25 penalties drawn, though, so the Blackhawks will still need to avoid taking too many trips to the box, lest the Flames suddenly find their rhythm with the man advantage.
CHI: Andrew Desjardins (lower body)
Motte -- Toews -- Panik
Panarin -- Anisimov -- Kane
Hartman -- Schmaltz -- Hossa
Rasmussen -- Kruger -- Tootoo
Keith -- Campbell
Seabrook -- Hjalmarsson
Forsling -- Rozsival