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Hawks' trip winds down with game against Kings

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (12-11-2) at KINGS (13-8-0)


Last 10:
Chicago 5-4-1; Los Angeles 5-5-0

Season series: Chicago took the only previous meeting this season, a 3-1 win on Oct. 27 at the United Center.

Big story:
Despite L.A.'s strong start and the unquestionable bona-fides of this spring's Stanley Cup winners, both the Kings and Blackhawks have been limping of late. As two of the preseason conference favorites take the ice Saturday, each will be looking to jump start their fortunes with a win over another member of the West's presumed elite.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Saturday night will be the final stop for the Hawks on their annual circus trip, and after capturing three of their previous five games the showdown in L.A. leaves them with a chance to take a winning record home with them to Chicago. The Hawks' offense appears to have come back to life on the annual west coast sojourn -- they've scored 22 goals on the trip -- and Friday night's win in Anaheim displayed the scoring depth on the roster as big guns like Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp, and unlikely scorers like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Troy Brouwer lit the lamp. Sharp in particular, with 3 goals and an assist over a current three-game point streak, has been a large contributor of late.

As the road swing dies down, however, a bigger concern is starting goaltender Marty Turco. With backup Corey Crawford winning his third-straight start Friday in Anaheim, Turco should get the call for Chicago's second game in as many nights, but the veteran netminder has been in a deep funk of late. Turco has lost four of his last five starts while giving up 11 goals in his last two. To rub more salt in the wounds, Turco was bested in his last appearance by the man he replaced in Chicago, Antti Niemi, in a 5-2 loss to San Jose on Wednesday. While the offense appears to be coming back for the Blackhawks, they'll need Turco to experience his own renaissance. If he doesn't, the former All-Star may see more and more of his starts ceded to the improving Crawford.

After their six-game winning streak capped an impressive 12 wins in their first 15 games this season, the Kings have suddenly fallen on hard times. Los Angeles hasn't won in regulation since Nov. 13 while dropping five of its last six games, a dramatic slump that has left the Kings one point behind the resurgent Coyotes in the Pacific Division. Saturday's showdown with the Hawks will open a stretch in which the Kings play five of their next six at home, a potential boon to the floundering club, which is 8-1-0 at the Staples Center this season.

In net, Jonathan Quick would seem a safe bet to start for Los Angeles. Highly-touted goaltending prospect Jonathan Bernier has run into trouble lately, giving up a total of 14 goals in his last three starts -- all losses. As a result, Quick is likely to keep the starting job for the long haul, despite his own recent inconsistency. The Connecticut native is still 11-3-0 on the season with a .931 save percentage and a stingy 1.90 goals-against average. L.A.'s offense has gotten a boost lately from Anze Kopitar, who has 11 points in his last nine games, meaning if Quick can regain his early-season form, the Kings could be off and running once again.

Who's hot: L.A.'s Justin Williams has a three-game points streak, continuing an impressive season in which he's wracked up 9 goals and 13 assists in 21 games. … In Chicago, Brouwer has 3 goals and an assist in the last four games.

Injury report: The Kings will continue to be without Alex Ponikarovsky (broken finger) for at least another week, while Willie Mitchell (broken left wrist) will be out until at least mid-December.

Stat pack:
Quick's impressive season means goals may be few and far between for the Hawks Saturday, but scoring quickly will likely be the key to victory. L.A. has an .833 winning percentage when it lights the lamp first this season.

Puck drop:
As the season heads to its third month, it's tougher to see which team is in the more desperate position. While the Hawks have managed to grab some impressive victories on their yearly November jaunt they remain in a deceptively large hole in the Central standings. With no regulation wins in two weeks, however, the upstart Kings are in need of a serious confidence boost if they hope to reclaim first place. A win over the talented, if inconsistent defending champs could help get the royal house in order.

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