KINGS (6-2-0) at HAWKS (5-4-1)
TV -- FS-West (HD), CSN-Chicago (HD)
Season series -- This is the first meeting between Chicago and Los Angeles this year. The Blackhawks took three of four from the Kings last season, including a 3-0 win in L.A. on March 18.
Big story -- it wouldn't be a shock to see these two teams meet at some point this spring. With Los Angeles off to one of its best starts in recent memory, the Kings will look to continue their ascent up the West standings when they visit the defending champs in Chicago.
Kings -- After making their first postseason appearance in eight years last spring, the Kings were tabbed by many, with their stockpile of young talent, as one of the teams expected to make a leap from also-ran to contender in 2010-11. So far southern California's royalty hasn't disappointed, winning six of eight games to start the current campaign and grabbing an early hold on first place in the Pacific division. The task is readily getting more difficult however. With cornerstone defenseman Drew Doughty sidelined by a concussion, the Kings are managing to win despite not having their best player on the ice.
Fortunately for L.A., which is currently on a five-game road trip, the Kings won't be experiencing a lack of toughness when they come into Chicago Wednesday. While Dustin Brown was given a game misconduct in L.A.'s 3-2 shootout win in Minnesota Monday for a hit on the Wild's Antti Miettinen, the NHL opted not to dole out supplemental discipline. With Doughty out, having a strong presence in the lineup like Brown's will benefit top goaltending prospect Jonathan Bernier, who is slated to get the start against the Hawks. Bernier is 1-1-0 with a 2.50 goals-against average in two starts this season, and with the Kings playing Thursday night in Dallas, starter Jonathan Quick, who has been superb this season with a 5-1-0 mark and a 1.95 GAA, will get the night off.
Blackhawks -- A four-game winning streak had the Hawks playing like champions, but a bad 36 hours can spoil any era of good feelings. Chicago dropped back-to-back games against St. Louis and Columbus on Friday and Saturday and now sits in a second-place tie behind division-leading Nashville. To make matters worse, the usual pillars of Chicago's offense are struggling. After notching 11 points in his first seven games, Marian Hossa has no points in three games. Patrick Kane has also been stymied lately, recording only one point in the same span.
The Hawks' loss to the Jackets Saturday night was a particularly bitter pill, as Chicago jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period before letting the game slip away and spoiling a solid outing for backup goaltender Corey Crawford, who had 37 saves in the losing effort. His reward will be to watch Marty Turco start this one, but given Turco's recent track record, coach Joel Quenneville can hardly be blamed for going with the veteran. Turco has won four of his last five starts while compiling a .921 save percentage and a 2.65 GAA so far this season.
Who's hot -- After being blanked in four of the first six games of the season, Jonathan Toews may finally be rediscovering his scoring touch. He has three points in the last two games, the first time he's made the scoresheet in consecutive outings this season. ... Jarret Stoll has proven himself a vital cog in L.A.'s offense, tallying 3 goals and 3 assists this season, including a score in Monday's shootout win in Minnesota.
Injury report -- Los Angeles will still be without Doughty, who is on injured reserve after suffering a concussion last week against Carolina. … Tomas Kopecky is expected to return to the lineup for Chicago after missing time with an upper-body injury.
Stat pack -- The Hawks made the United Center one of the toughest places to play in the League a year ago, but they've struggled to maintain the intimidation factor at the Madhouse on Madison during their title defense. So far Chicago is 3-3-0 on home ice, a dramatic difference from last season when the Hawks didn't suffer their third loss at the UC until Dec. 4 -- their 14th home game of the season.
Puck drop -- The Kings will be trying to make a statement against last season's champions, despite the absence of Doughty. The game is no less important for the Blackhawks, whose 5-4-1 record has Quenneville unhappy with a lot of what he's seeing. A win for Chicago could reinforce the Hawks' place at the top of the West hierarchy while showing the upstart Kings that they still have some lessons to learn.