BLACKHAWKS (12-7-3) at DUCKS (6-11-4)
TV: WGN, PRIME (HD)
Chicago 4-5-1; Anaheim 1-6-3
The Blackhawks have taken their only meeting with the Ducks this season, a 3-2 shootout win Oct. 23 at the United Center.
The Hawks' annual November "Circus Trip" reaches its conclusion with a two-game set in southern California agains the Ducks and Kings. The first of those games comes Thursday evening in Anaheim where the reeling Ducks are searching for a big win to jumpstart a climb back up the standings.
As the Hawks hit the home stretch of the "Circus Trip," Joel Quenneville's crew could probably stand to be a little more pleased with the results. After opening the road swing with a very impressive 5-1 win in Vancouver, Chicago suddenly forgotten how to score and how to defend, as the Hawks scored a grand total of four goals in losing the next three games of the trek. Perhaps even more embarrassing is that Chicago surrendered a very uncharacteristic 14 goals over its two games in the province of Alberta, losing 5-2 to Calgary before getting rolled 9-2 in Edmonton the next night.
In the losses it appears scoring depth is proving to be the Blackhawks' Achilles' heel. Marian Hossa
, Patrick Sharp
, Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
have all tallied points in bunches of late, but offense has been sporadic at best nearly everywhere else in the lineup. Those concerns became most obvious in Wednesday night's 1-0 shutout loss to the Sharks and former-Blackhawk Antti Niemi. Perhaps the Hawks can find solace in knowing that it may just have been a case of the bounces not going their way. The Hawks outshot San Jose Wednesday night by a stiff 34-21 margin.
After starting the season with four wins in its first five games, Anaheim looked to be on the road to something special in 2011-12, but since that promising start fortunes have turned in a dramatic way. The Ducks haven't won in five games and have achieved a dismal 2-10-4 mark in their last 16 games. The most recent of those, a frustrating 4-2 loss in Phoenix Wednesday night in which the Ducks had an early lead, has left Anaheim mired in last place in the Pacific and just three points up on Columbus for the Western Conference cellar.
As coach Randy Carlyle looks for answers, obstacles are just getting bigger and bigger, and the results have become more and more mystifying given that many of the Ducks' big guns are performing. Saku Koivu
is taking a three-game point streak into Friday's game, while Teemu Selanne
and last year's Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry
each have four points in their last four games. Few other players have been contributing consistently, but perhaps the answer lies in net. Starter Jonas Hiller
has struggled this fall, accumulating an unsightly .902 save percentage and a 3.01 goals-against average.
Is Andrew Cogliano
heating up for Anaheim? The center only has eight points on the season, but four of them have come in the last three games. ... Chicago has gotten a surprising offensive contribution from the blue line in Steve Montador
, who has five points in his last five games.
The Ducks will be without both enforcer George Parros
(left eye surgery) and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky
(broken finger) until December. The Blackhawks got forward Michael Frolik
(left shoulder injury) back Wednesday night in San Jose, but defenseman Brent Seabrook
(lower-body injury) missed the game. His status is uncertain for Friday night.
Anaheim's goaltending hasn't made its season too easy, but Hiller and backup Dan Ellis
have gotten little help from what should be a potent group of forwards. The Ducks have scored more than two goals just three times this month -- a span of 10 games. Anaheim's average of 2.00 goals per game is tied with the New York Islanders for the lowest mark in the League.
When it's only November, the mantra is often that there is plenty of time to recover in the standings, but given how far down the standings Anaheim has fallen, struggling so much at the season's quarter-mark digs a deep hole. The Ducks need an instant turnaround. Friday night is the opener of six straight games at Honda Center for Anaheim and if the team is unable to bench together wins over that stretch, it may prove to be the Ducks' last stand in the 2011-12 season.