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Blackhawks look to start new streak against Kings

by David Kalan /
BLACKHAWKS (16-6-2) at KINGS (14-10-2)

Last 10 -- Chicago 8-1-1; Los Angeles 4-6-0

Season series -- Chicago leads the season series 1-0. In their first meeting, the Blackhawks started their recent eight-game winning streak by knocking off the Kings, 4-1, on Nov. 9.

Big story -- After having their League-high eight-game winning streak snapped Friday, the Hawks look to wrap up their annual circus trip on an up note against the struggling Kings.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks -- After having perhaps the most impressive performance of any team yet this season, a 7-2 pasting of the West-leading Sharks, Chicago struggled to come up with an encore Friday. The Hawks' eight-game winning streak came to an abrupt end just one victory shy of tying the franchise record in a 3-0 loss to the Ducks. Anaheim outplayed the Hawks at both ends of the ice, with Cristobal Huet's 31 saves perhaps the lone saving grace of the afternoon.

Chicago is now charged with making the lapse at Honda Center look like a mere blip on the radar. The Hawks' offense has been clicking as well as any in the League, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews combining for 17 points in the eight games since Toews returned from injury. With the dynamic pair now skating with Marian Hossa, who tallied two goals in his debut Wednesday, the Hawks have one of the best lines in hockey. With the finale of their circus trip waiting in the City of Angels, the trio will look to give the Hawks a nice sendoff as they return home next week.

Kings -- Things have gotten bumpy in Los Angeles after a promising start to the season. The Kings have lost three of their last four games, and have just one win in regulation in their last seven. L.A. took a 1-1 tie into the third period of its Thanksgiving night showdown in Vancouver, despite sloppy play. Jonathan Quick had kept the game close, giving up only one goal on 19 shots in the first two periods, but Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo matched him save for save, and in the third period the wheels came off, as Vancouver lit the lamp three times to take the victory.

The big issue for the Kings appears to be the absence of offseason acquisition Ryan Smyth, whose linemates, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, have struggled without him. Kopitar and Williams have no goals and just two assists in the four games that Smyth has been out with an upper-body injury. For L.A. to snap out of the funk, they will have to find a way to generate scoring opportunities, as the team will likely be without Smyth for three more weeks.

Who's hot -- L.A.'s Wayne Simmonds has two goals and three points in his last two games, while Chicago's Patrick Sharp has five points in his last five games.

Injury report -- In addition to missing Smyth, the Kings may be without Rob Scuderi and Jarret Stoll, who are both questionable for Saturday with lower-body injuries. Chicago will be without Dave Bolland, who is out for several months following back surgery.

Stat pack --
After two lost faceoffs led directly to Vancouver scores Thursday, it seems the biggest Achilles heel for the Kings right now might be their inability to find success in the circle. Last season, L.A. ranked fourth in the League with a 52.0 faceoff win percentage. This season the Kings are winning the puck just 47.9 percent of the time, good for 26th.

Puck drop --
While both teams are coming off losses, Los Angeles might be under the most pressure. The Kings need a strong performance to show the offense can work without Smyth, but that may be hard to come by against the Hawks. Chicago's blue line has been a tough customer much of the season, and Huet seems to have gotten past his early-season issues.

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