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Blackhawks seek scoring balance for New Jersey tilt

by Emerald Gao /

The Blackhawks have had three days to regroup after losing 3-2 in a shootout to the Calgary Flames on Monday, and their next stop is New Jersey, where they'll take on the Devils in the first of two meetings this season. The Devils won both matchups in 2015-16 by scores of 4-2 and 3-2; New Jersey native Kyle Palmieri tallied four points (2G, 2A) to lead the club. The Devils are undefeated on home ice through three outings, while the Blackhawks have lost both of their road games. With the Circus Trip just a couple weeks away, Chicago would like to find their rhythm away from the United Center sooner than later.

New Jersey has a back-to-back this weekend, meaning regular starter Cory Schneider will sit for the first time this season after starting all six games so far. Keith Kincaid, who has been a dependable backup for the Devils the last two years, will get the nod. He has a 15-14-5 career record with a .909 save percentage and 2.71 goals-against average. In his only start against Chicago, Kinkaid stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss on Dec. 9, 2014.

New Jersey made one of the biggest trades in the offseason when general manager Ray Shero acquired left winger Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Adam Larsson. On paper, this trade makes the Devils a more dangerous team offensively, provided they can build around Hall and other young stars like Adam Henrique, Palmieri and Pavel Zacha (the latter two are Hall's current linemates). So far, Hall has done his part, scoring 38.5 percent of his team's goals this season (8 of 15) while leading the team with 25 shots on goal. The 24-year-old has been an elite scorer and playmaker despite some injury-shortened seasons early in his career; since his debut, Hall shares 25th in the NHL with 0.86 points per game (min. 50 GP). He's been better than that against the Blackhawks, posting 22 points in 18 career matchups, including a hat trick in a 9-2 Oilers win on Nov. 19, 2011.

The Devils haven't been a high-scoring team over the last few seasons, and the jury is out on whether that part of their game will be elevated even with Hall added to the mix. Prior to Tuesday's five-goal outburst, New Jersey had tallied just eight times in their first five tilts of the season, and their 2.17 goals per game rank 28th in the league heading into Thursday's schedule. At even strength, that number drops to six goals in six games. The Blackhawks have allowed just eight even-strength tallies through seven games, and with a penalty kill that done more harm than good, keeping the contest at 5-on-5 will be a priority. On Monday, Chicago allowed power-play goals their first two times shorthanded to a Flames team that entered the game with the NHL's worst power play, before killing the last three.

The Devils have also made overall improvements in shot generation, averaging 30.3 per game this year compared to a league-low 24.4 per game in 2015-16. Their team's 7.1 shooting percentage will likely improve as the season progresses, and the Blackhawks can help themselves by limiting the home team's chances on Friday whether at even strength or shorthanded.

Head Coach Joel Quenneville shuffled his forward lines at practice on Thursday, reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, likely in an effort to jumpstart the captain's season, which has begun slowly with just two assists in seven games; Richard Panik will retain his spot on the top line. Taking Kane's place on the Artem Anisimov line was Marian Hossa, while Tyler Motte slid down to join Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman in an all-rookie trio. The configuration could add scoring balance to the top six, while the bottom six plays a more straightforward energy role, but as always, Quenneville won't hesitate to make in-game adjustments if the Blackhawks get off to a slow start on Friday.

On defense, with Gustav Forsling ruled out of the New Jersey clash, Michal Kempny should draw back into the lineup, although it's still unconfirmed how the six blueliners will pair off. On Monday, the top duo of Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell had a strong showing, ending the night with a +8 shot attempt differential against Calgary, while Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson played a more defensive role. Kempny's played most of his minutes with Seabrook this season, but the picture should be clearer after morning skate on Friday.

Video: Quenneville on Gustav Forsling and Andrew Desjardins

CHI: Gustav Forsling (day-to-day), Andrew Desjardins (lower body)
NJD: Jon Merrill (upper body), Luke Gazdic (lower body)


Panik -- Toews -- Kane
Panarin -- Anisimov -- Hossa
Motte -- Kruger -- Hartman
Rasmussen -- Schmaltz -- Tootoo

Keith -- Campbell
Hjalmarsson -- Seabrook
Kempny -- Rozsival


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