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Mailbag: Blackhawks win streak, Maple Leafs rookies's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Here is the Nov. 9 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

What are your thoughts on the Chicago Blackhawks and their current win streak? Do you think it's sustainable? -- @vasanthy23

Let me start by saying I picked the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup this season, but that doesn't mean I picked them to be first in the Central Division. I like the Blackhawks make up and experience, and felt at the start of the season they would need some time to jell, to let the young players get comfortable in roles, and by the time the Stanley Cup Playoffs rolled around they'd be firing on all cylinders. Well, the firing is coming a bit earlier than expected, but that's not to say they can't sustain success and be the contender I think they should be and will be in the spring.

Corey Crawford has been outstanding. He might have a bad game or two, but I don't see him changing much. However, the Blackhawks have been outshot in six consecutive games, including twice badly (34-22 against the Calgary Flames and 38-21 against the Colorado Avalanche), and they've still managed to win all of those games. They're not making it easy on their goaltenders and it's tough to sustain success over a long haul when you're allowing 32.3 shots per game, as they are now. They're also scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots, including 13.25 percent in their winning streak. That will regress eventually, which will put even more pressure on Crawford if they don't start limiting the shots against soon.

Video: CHI@DAL: Crawford stones Seguin on the doorstep

The good news is their penalty kill has dramatically improved from what it was through the first seven games of the season. Chicago was 3-3-1 in part because it allowed 14 power-play goals on 26 times shorthanded through the first seven games. It has won six in a row since in part because it has allowed two power-play goals on 20 times shorthanded in those games. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, quiet earlier in the season, are starting to score. That takes pressure off of players like Richard Panik to keep up what he was doing in scoring six goals in the first six games.

The Blackhawks are going to have ups and downs, but I'm of the opinion that it will make them stronger and they should be clicking when the playoffs roll around. Winning six in a row and going 7-0-1 in their past eight games is great because it gives them a little buffer when some of the numbers start to turn against them.

Now that Hampus Lindholm is back, who do the Anaheim Ducks remove in the future once the cap overloads with players from LTIR? -- @StevieSaidYup

This is going to be a huge and difficult decision for Ducks general manager Bob Murray. I'm sure the Ducks would like to trade Clayton Stoner, but his $3.25 million NHL salary-cap charge this season and next makes that difficult. So my initial thought is the same as many others, Cam Fowler, who is making $4 million this season and next. I've been told the Ducks are doing everything in their power to avoid trading him. That makes sense since he's a top-four defenseman and a very good one, but I'm not sure how realistic it is. Someone will eventually have to go and Fowler has good value as a 24-year-old who can play big, productive minutes while playing on a reasonable contract.

One thing to consider too is if Fowler stays this season, the Ducks may be forced to trade him in the summer or expose him in the expansion draft. If exposed, he could get taken, which means they'd get nothing for him. Kevin Bieksa has to be protected because of his no-movement clause, and the Ducks also have Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Simon Despres. They can protect them all if they want, but it leaves open more forwards if they do. Teams can choose to protect 11 players, including seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight skaters regardless of position and a goalie. So I still say Fowler is the one that eventually goes. I have no idea when that will happen because Despres and Nate Thompson are still on LTIR.

How do the New York Rangers align defensive balance with offensive production? Can't lean on Ryan McDonagh for 25 minutes a game all season, can they? -- @Nick_Sica

I'll tackle your second part first. Why can't they rely on McDonagh to play 25 minutes per game? Other teams do it with their top defensemen, so why not the Rangers? If they continue to play the way they've played of late they'll continue to have the puck more than the opponent and that limits the hard minutes on McDonagh. He's in great shape. He's in the prime of his career. He can handle the minutes. And they're way better when he plays a lot; the Rangers are 23-1-2 in their past 26 games that McDonagh has played 25 or more minutes. That goes back to Oct. 16, 2014. He can handle it.

As for the first part, the Rangers are aligning their defensive balance with offensive production because their forwards are doing a tremendous job coming back in the zone and helping out in front of the net. We did not see this from their forwards last season. Too often there was nobody in front of the net and the space in the middle of the ice was so wide that it was easy for the opposition to make plays to get Grade A chances. The Rangers have had much better net-front presence in their 'D' zone this season, most notably from the forwards coming back lower in the zone to help out the defensemen. That type of coverage is allowing them to hound the puck and force turnovers in their own end, and with their speed the Rangers are fast at breaking out and skilled enough to make quality plays off the rush.

Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner or William Nylander -- who has impressed you the most? -- @kinglewimcmxc

I kind of feel like I'm stealing from the fantastic Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet here, but the other day he said on Toronto radio that Marner has been the most impressive because he had the most doubt around him coming into the season. That's true and that's also why he has impressed me the most. I was pretty darn sure that Matthews would be spectacular, and he has been. He's been very impressive, but none of it is a surprise in the least. Nylander has been as solid as I expected him to be, but I didn't know what the Maple Leafs would get from Marner this season. He has been excellent. He's been exciting. He's making plays, creating chances, getting on the scoresheet. He's finding the soft spots in the defense and taking advantage. He's taking the puck end to end. He's been intelligent, skilled, really just marvelous. I'm not suggesting the other two haven't also been terrific, but Marner has impressed me most because I didn't know what to expect out of him.

Video: VAN@TOR: Matthews, Marner show off vocal skills

What will the Dallas Stars do [regarding] injuries and their slow start? They're going to get healthy sooner than later, but this is ugly! -- @cbarnard82

Ugly maybe, but the Stars were in a playoff position entering play Tuesday. Hey, I know, it's still early November, so why am I talking about the playoffs? It's a good question. I find it kind of silly myself in fact, but it matters because playing catchup in this league is near impossible when you get down early because of parity and three-point games. The Stars are banged up and their goaltending has been subpar (including an 8-2 loss against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday), but they're hardly playing catchup; two points separated them from the second wild card position and three from last in the conference, but the important thing is they're staying in the race. Maybe they'll be ready to get on a hot streak whenever some of their injured players get back, namely Patrick Sharp (concussion), Jason Spezza (lower body) and Jiri Hudler (illness). For Dallas, though, the most important thing is goaltending. The Stars aren't going anywhere if Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are going to operate at around a .900 save percentage for the whole season.

With Evander Kane and Jack Eichel back in the lineup, do you think the Buffalo Sabres will make a solid push for seventh or eighth by the All-Star break? -- @ThomasWNY

Let's not put the cart before the horse. Kane (fractured ribs) might be ready to return to the lineup as early as Wednesday against the Ottawa Senators, but Eichel (high ankle sprain) will still be out for quite a while. Coach Dan Bylsma is still saying he's weeks away from returning. He hasn't started skating yet. The Sabres need them in the lineup to be the team that can push for a playoff spot. I picked the Sabres to be the second wild card from the Eastern Conference this season, but that was before I knew that Kane and, in particular, Eichel would miss so much time. They're right in the mix, but teams will start to spread out a bit in the coming month. Let's see where the Sabres are when Eichel is ready to return before any predictions can be made about where they could go once he does.

Do you think the New York Islanders will trade for an elite wing for John Tavares if they keep playing the way they have been? -- @ryanmcdade33

Who are they giving up? Are you ready to part with Mathew Barzal? How about Michael Dal Colle? Joshua Ho-Sang? No? Didn't think so. It's going to take a prospect of that ilk to get a top wing into Brooklyn to play with Tavares this season. I'd bet against that happening. They signed Andrew Ladd to be that player. It hasn't worked out yet. Yet being the key word. Ladd scored a goal, finally, against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. Maybe that helps him. But to suggest they can just go out and get an elite wing to play with Tavares because they're struggling would be absurd unless they're willing to part with some of their future. I don't see that happening. They need to work this out with who they have.

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