CANUCKS (3-5-0) at BLACKHAWKS (5-2-1)
-- This will be the first matchup between the teams since the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks in the Western Conference Semifinals, winning Game 6 at the United Center by routing Roberto Luongo
in a 7-5 win. They split their four regular-season meetings, with the Canucks taking the final one, 4-0, on March 29.
Big Story --
Both the Canucks and Blackhawks are expected to be contenders for the Western Conference crown. As they face each other for the first time, the two teams will look to establish themselves in the playoff hunt with a win over another above-average squad. With Vancouver and Chicago both coming off losses, Wednesday will also give each a chance to right the ship.
Sitting at 3-5-0 after the first eight games of the year, the Canucks are still struggling to get their feet under them. Vancouver has dropped two of its last three to divisional rivals Edmonton and Calgary, and it would serve the Canucks well to close out their brief two-game road trip with a win over the solid Blackhawks.
As its record would indicate, Vancouver's season has been a mixed bag, with offseason acquisition Mikael Samuelsson
leading the team with 4 goals, and center Henrik Sedin
pacing the team in points with 11. Some of those 11 points have come without the help of Henrik's brother Daniel, whose broken foot has dealt the Canucks' offense a major blow. With Daniel Sedin
not expected back until late November, it could be difficult for the Canucks to generate offense, but their defense is a concern as well, as Luongo currently has an unusually low .879 save percentage.
Prior to losing to Dallas on Saturday, Chicago had won four in a row, but that loss has proved costly for goalie Cristobal Huet
, who gave up a bizarre game-winner to Stephane Robidas. The high-priced signing from a year ago is yet to display the form he had during his playoff run with Washington in 2008. Backup Antti Niemi has been strong in three appearances this season, all of them wins, and reportedly will get the nod Wednesday as he continues to make a case to be the full-time starter.
Aside from the controversy in net, things look good for Chicago. Wednesday's game against the Canucks will be the second of a four-game stretch for the Hawks at the United Center, where they've won three of four this season. Patrick Sharp
has continued a strong start with five goals and 10 points, and with captain Jonathan Toews
finally getting his first goal of the season Saturday, there is reason to believe Chicago will continue its success. The only cause for concern offensively might be Patrick Kane
, who has missed the scoresheet in three straight games.
Who's Hot --
With his first goal of the year Saturday, Toews now has four points in the last three games. Until going pointless against Edmonton on Monday, Vancouver's Ryan Kesler
had three goals and four assists over the previous five games.
Injury Report -- Daniel Sedin
's broken foot isn't the only injury giving the Canucks trouble. After spraining his right MCL, Sami Salo
has left Vancouver's blue line a little thinner while he misses 3-5 weeks. Chicago's Ben Eager is still on IR with a concussion, while Marian Hossa
is still not expected to make his Blackhawks debut until mid-November.
Stat Pack --
More surprising than the Canucks' early struggles might be Luongo's 3.22 goals-against average. The perennial Vezina Trophy contender hasn't finished a season with a GAA over three since his rookie year when he only made 20 starts. Since coming to Vancouver in 2006, Luongo has had a GAA of 2.33. With his career track record, it's a solid bet the captain will improve his play -- and the Canucks' record -- as the season goes on.
Puck Drop --
Despite losing Daniel Sedin
, it is only a matter of time before the Canucks make a run in the competitive Northwest Division. A win over the Hawks would be a sign that the run could be coming soon, particularly with their next three games at home. Regardless of its loss on Saturday, Chicago is far from panic mode, but a loss to Vancouver would assure the Hawks of finishing their homestand with no better than a .500 mark. For the Blackhawks to take the next step as a contender, they need to continue making teams dread a trip to the Windy City.
-- David Kalan, NHL.com