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Kings start five-game trip by visiting Blackhawks

by David Kalan /

KINGS (10-5-2) at BLACKHAWKS (8-5-2)

Last 10: Los Angeles 6-2-2; Chicago 5-4-1

Season series:
This is the first meeting of the year for L.A. and Chicago. Both teams defended their home ice a year ago, splitting the series, 2-2, with the Blackhawks taking the last matchup, a 4-1 win, on March 22, 2009.

Big story:
With both Chicago and Los Angeles coming off frustrating losses, the two will look to get back on track when the Kings come to the United Center.

Team scope:

Chicago is the first stop on a five-game cross-country road swing for the Kings, who probably would have hoped for a better sendoff Saturday when they suffered a disappointing home loss to the Predators. Los Angeles had won six of its previous eight games, including a stunning third-period comeback against the Stanley Cup-champion Penguins Thursday.

Despite the blip on the radar against Nashville, things are still looking good in the City of Angels. Anze Kopitar continued his breakout season against the Preds with his League-leading 27th point of the year, while goalie Jonathan Quick is among the League leaders with 10 wins. The current road trip is unlikely to faze the Kings, who are 5-3-1 away from the Staples Center. Once the Kings leave Chicago, the rest of their trip will take them through the bottom four teams in the Southeast Division.

Chicago's brief two-game sojourn did not go as planned. The Blackhawks lost in both stops of their western swing in Phoenix and Colorado, the latter a particularly frustrating defeat that came in an eight-round shootout. Despite a promising start to the season, Chicago suddenly finds itself with losses in three of its last four and more than three weeks removed from a road win. But the remedy might be coming for the Hawks. Chicago is back for four games at the United Center, where the Hawks are 6-2-1 on the season.

Cristobal Huet is likely to get the start for Chicago, after being given the night off in Colorado. While Huet lost in his last outing in Phoenix, he has played very well of late, giving up only four goals in the four games prior to the Hawks' loss on Thursday. Chicago's offense hasn't played up to the caliber of its starting goalie recently. The Hawks last scored four goals in a game on Oct. 14, and appear to be struggling to gain consistency without captain Jonathan Toews, who is still suffering from concussion-like symptoms.

Who's hot:
L.A.'s Ryan Smyth has five points in his last three games, and Quick has only one regulation loss in his last nine starts. For Chicago, Kris Versteeg is the forward contributing most consistently with five points in his last three games.

Injury report:
Toews is still questionable for Chicago with concussion-like symptoms, while Dave Bolland is also questionable for Monday with a back injury. Los Angeles will have a full lineup with the exception of Alec Martinez, who is on IR with an ankle injury.

Stat pack:
Kopitar is well on his way to shattering his career high of 77 points, even if he slows down a little. The Slovenian has been producing at an astonishing clip, and is on pace for a 138-point campaign, nearly double his career average before this season.

Puck drop:
Considering what many expected from these teams at the start of the season, the Hawks and Kings find themselves in considerably different positions than initially anticipated. While Chicago has a winning record and sits only two points out of first place in the Central, the Hawks haven't had a win nearly as impressive this year as L.A.'s rally against the defending champs. Monday presents Chicago with a chance to get its season firmly on the right track, but the Kings won't be pushovers. For them the game is another opportunity to convert a few more believers.

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