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League-best Blackhawks welcome in resurgent Kings

by Brian Hedger /
KINGS (17-14-5) at BLACKHAWKS (23-9-4)


Last 10:
Los Angeles 4-5-1; Chicago 8-1-1

Season series:
This will be the second meeting of the season between Los Angeles and Chicago, with the Blackhawks winning the first meeting 2-1 on Nov. 26 at Staples Center. Jonathan Toews scored the game-winning goal midway through the second period and goalie Corey Crawford made 26 saves -- including all 10 by the Kings in the third to preserve the win.

Big story:
The Blackhawks are saying all the right things about needing to get better and not letting complacency sneak up on them, but really there isn't a lot that could be going better for them. The offensive depth keeps expanding, with Viktor Stalberg's recent emergence just the latest example of Chicago's wealth of firepower. The defense is back to its stingy ways in front of Hawks goaltenders, while Crawford has apparently shaken off his struggles to post back-to-back solid wins in net. There are some areas that could be improved, but they're not big concerns at this point. The Kings come into the Windy City after beating the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday, which assured them of a third straight game resulting in at least a point for recently-named coach Darryl Sutter.

Team Scope:

Monday's 4-3 victory against the Coyotes was significant for more than just the two points earned by the Kings. It also ended a franchise-record streak of 14 straight games with less than three goals scored in regulation time. After Phoenix's Raffi Torres scored his second goal of the game to knot it 2-2 in the second period, the Kings got goals from Willie Mitchell and the eventual game-winner by Dustin Brown in the third to seal the win. Jonathan Quick also stopped 11 of 12 Coyotes shots in the third. Los Angeles is now 4-1-1 in its last six games and 2-0-1 since Sutter took over as coach. Now the Kings are faced with a quick two-game road trip to Chicago and Winnipeg on back-to-back nights before coming back to Staples Center for five straight games on home ice.

"It's nice to see a 'W' up there. That's more important," Sutter said on the Kings' website about breaking the low-scoring stretch. "You don't want to overemphasize the importance of having to produce more offense to win hockey games."

They were the first team in the NHL to reach the 50-point plateau this season for several reasons. The Hawks have scoring depth, an improving defense, decent special-teams play and good goaltending. They've also got that loaded "core group" of stars that keeps contributing at both ends of the rink while the role players work out exactly what their roles are and how to play them. All of that was evident in Monday's 4-1 pasting of the Columbus Blue Jackets, which was a game Chicago was outplayed in for a couple of long stretches. Crawford's hot hand in net kept it scoreless in a first period when the Hawks were outshot 13-5 and then helped them preserve a two-goal margin in the third after Columbus got an early goal by former Hawk defenseman James Wisniewski. Crawford will get a third straight start in net against the Kings.

"I'm just trying to be focused, a little better prepared for games," Crawford said after stopping 36 of 37 shots. "I felt pretty good. You don't want to give up too many shots, but I thought we were playing well. We kept them to the outside, secured rebounds and kept guys to the side of the net."

Who's hot: Quick has allowed less than three goals in four of his past five appearances, while Brown has scored goals in four of his past six games for the Kings. … Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are carrying the bulk of the load offensively for the Blackhawks recently, but nobody's been hotter in the past four games than the speedy Stalberg, who has 4 goals and 7 points in the past four games while playing mostly right wing on the third line.

Injury report:
Scott Parse it out for the season after having hip surgery, while Simon Gagne might be out with what the Kings are calling an upper-body injury that occurred on Monday night against Phoenix. … Daniel Carcillo (upper body) is still on IR, but is back practicing with the Hawks and might be available against Los Angeles, while Patrick Kane is battling flu-like symptoms and Marcus Kruger (upper body) and Steve Montador missed practice on Tuesday.

Stat pack:
In a big change from a year ago, the Blackhawks still have not lost a game in regulation when leading or tied after two periods, posting an impressive 18-0-3 combined mark in those settings. … The Kings' penalty killing units have successfully thwarted 63 of the last 66 power plays they've faced and have killed off 16 in a row.

Puck drop:
The Kings haven't been beaten in regulation after holding a lead to start the third period since April 2, 2009 at Phoenix -- an impressive record of 68-0-4 in a span of 72 games. The Blackhawks, who have an 8-1-1 record in December, have collected at least a point in 16 of 18 home games this season (13-2-3). They also play eight of the next nine games at the United Center, including this game.

"We've got some momentum here at home," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after beating Columbus on Monday. "We've got a lot of home games coming up here this month and January as well, but I still think there's some growth in our game that's needed and areas I think we should be looking to improve upon. We shouldn't be satisfied where we're at. We should be looking to get better the second part of the year."
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