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Blackhawks hope to rebound against Jackets

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (8-4-3) at BLUE JACKETS (2-11-1)


Last 10: Chicago 5-3-2; Columbus 2-8-0.

Season Series: Chicago leads the season series 1-0 after taking the first meeting between these teams 5-2 at the United Center on Oct. 29.

Big Story: Chicago and Columbus are both mired in losing streaks but things couldn't be any more different for the two clubs. As the Hawks try to stop their first skid of the season, Columbus will be searching for a fundamental recovery as it bounces back from what might be the worst loss so far in a season falling dramatically short of expectations.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: The Hawks aren't in quite the same disarray as their division rivals, but after an overtime loss to Tampa Bay and big losses to Vancouver and St. Louis, Chicago may need to reassess its play. The Blackhawks still sit in first place in the Central Division and hold the third-best mark in the West behind Dallas and Edmonton, but with the team in the midst of its first losing streak of the season, that may no longer be the case if it can't step on the breaks.

Having given up nine goals in the last two games, there is a clear indication that the Hawks haven't been playing the strong defense fans have grown accustomed to over the past three seasons, but with defenseman Duncan Keith back in the fold after his return against St. Louis on Tuesday night, there will be few excuses if Chicago doesn't begin to clamp down. Goalie Corey Crawford, who was in net for all nine of those goals, could use a return to form as well.

Blue Jackets: To say Columbus' season has been disappointing so far is like saying Mary Todd Lincoln didn't enjoy the play. The Jackets appeared destined for a big season after making the offseason additions of defenseman James Wisniewski and center Jeff Carter, but instead Columbus has won just twice in 14 games. The team's disastrous start may have reached a head in its last game, a 9-2 drubbing in Philadelphia.

With four days off since that loss the Jackets will seek a rebound with another new addition in tow, having acquired center Mark Letestu from Pittsburgh. While Letestu's numbers -- one assist in 11 games -- don't set the world on fire, it's worth noting his numbers have limited playing being two guys named Malkin and Staal, as well as that Crosby fellow when he was healthy last season. Columbus is optimistic Letestu can add another dimension to their struggling offense with a change of scenery, but the proof will be in the pudding when the team jumps back on the ice Thursday.

Who's Hot: Rick Nash has three points in the last four games for Columbus ... Patrick Kane has seven points in his last five games for Chicago.

Injury Report: Columbus is anticipating Carter's return from a hairline fracture in his right foot, but it is expected to come this weekend. Jared Boll may be activated from IR for Thursday's game after spending the last five weeks out with a broken right thumb. Kris Russell is questionable due to undisclosed reasons. Chicago should have a full lineup.

Stat Pack: Columbus' surprising struggles are no secret, but just how difficult it has been may not be immediately obvious. In winning just two of their first 14 games, the Blue Jackets have compiled a -22 goal differential, worst in the League by nine goals. At this pace, Columbus will be outscored by roughly 129 goals this year, a total that far outpaces last season's worst goal differential, a -76 by the Edmonton Oilers.

Puck Drop: In addition to Letestu, the Hawks may see a change as Steve Mason is likely to be in net for the Jackets. Backup Allen York was in net for their last meeting this season, but given Mason's brutal numbers -- he has a .869 save percentage and a 3.70 goals-against average -- York could get the call. Regardless, the location, rather than the goalie, may be the bigger concern for the Jackets. Chicago has won three straight games at Nationwide Arena.

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