BLUE JACKETS (5-11-2) AT BLACKHAWKS (14-0-3)
UNITED CENTER | CHICAGO, IL
7 P.M. TONIGHT
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO (HD) | RADIO: 97.1 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM
Could the Blue Jackets be the first team to beat the Blackhawks in regulation this season?
That's their task tonight against a club that has been "all systems go" since spoiling the Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony on opening day in Los Angeles over a month ago. One look at Chicago's record says it all: at 14-0-3, they set an NHL record by going 17 straight games without a regulation loss to open a season with a win over San Jose on Friday night. It's an impressive run, but even more so considering they've been riding backup goaltender Ray Emery of late.
And regardless if it's been Emery or starter Corey Crawford between the pipes, the Blackhawks' approach has not changed: they roll four lines, expect the defense to get involved in the attack, and force opponents to play at their sometimes-electrifying pace. If you can't keep up, it's a long night...and like Roberto Luongo once said, you get sick and tired of hearing "Chelsea Dagger" pretty quick.
If the Blue Jackets are to end the Blackhawks' streak tonight at the United Center, they'll need to do a lot of what they did in their last meeting with Chicago. In a game that got a lot of attention due to a questionable goaltender interference call (and disallowed game-tying goal), the Blue Jackets gave the Blackhawks one of their better tests of the season.
The forecheck was aggressive, the checks were finished and the penalty kill was sharp when called upon -- all of which are essential components to playing well against a skilled group like the Blackhawks. Columbus' last three games have featured a lot of those things; losses to Anaheim and St. Louis sandwiched around an exciting win in Detroit showed what the Blue Jackets are capable of when they execute their game plan and capitalize on opportunities. In the losses, the theme is a familiar tune: plenty of chances, not enough finish.
In capping off this six-game road trip tonight, the Blue Jackets have a chance to take some positive momentum home to Columbus before spending the majority of March at Nationwide Arena. They could face Crawford tonight, who's healthy and ready to return to the lineup. After a 28-save effort last night against the Blues, it remains to be seen whether Todd Richards goes back to Sergei Bobrovsky or gets Steve Mason some work between the pipes
- Marian Hossa thankfully avoided a serious head injury when he was hit by Vancouver's Jannik Hansen last week, and the Slovak sniper is on quite a roll. He's got points in six straight games against the Blue Jackets, posting 3-5-8 in that stretch.
- Emery is 7-0-0 on the season and has a goals-against average of 2.10, which is more than enough to give Chicago a chance to win every night. The veteran netminder has given the Blackhawks quality starts all season long and stepped up when Crawford was injured.
- Jack Johnson left last night's game in the second period with an upper body injury and did not return. His status for tonight has not been determined.
- With an assist on the tying goal Thursday night, Derick Brassard moved into a tie for the club's scoring lead (10 points), accumulating three goals and seven assists on the year.
LEFT WING | #20
2013 STATS: 3-0-3, 16 GP
The Blackhawks have high hopes for the 20-year-old Pittsburgh native, who they selected with a second-round pick (43rd overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft. Saad's a big kid with good hands who isn't afraid of the high-traffic areas and works hard at both ends of the rink, and there appears to be a bright future ahead of him. He's spent time on Chicago's top line this year with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and is playing anywhere between 14 and 17 minutes a game for head coach Joel Quenneville.
COLUMBUS: Artem Anisimov (upper body), day-to-day; Brandon Dubinsky (knee), IR; Jack Johnson (upper body), day-to-day
CHICAGO: Corey Crawford (upper body), probable