CHICAGO -- Since blowing out the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 last week at Joe Louis Arena, the Ottawa Senators have only scored three combined goals in a pair of losses at home to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.
Looking for a spark offensively, Senators coach Paul MacLean is set to reunite forward Bobby Ryan and captain Jason Spezza on the top line while putting 20-year old Mika Zibanejad in Ryan's former spot at right wing on the second unit.
Spezza (seven goals, four assists) and Ryan (six goals, three assists) are Ottawa's top-two scorers, while Zibanejad has a goal and an assist in three games since being recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.
"We played together earlier in the year and I was banged up a little bit," Spezza said. "So we'll get another opportunity to play together and hopefully we'll make the most of it. If we're going to play together, we have to help guide the team offensively. When we're split up, it's a little bit more by committee. We have to try to be good together offensively and also play solid against the other teams' top lines."
Zibanejad, who played exclusively in the middle for Binghamton, started out centering the Senators' fourth line in his first game this season. That was the rout of Detroit, in which he set up a goal. Zibanejad, the sixth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, then scored Ottawa's lone goal in the loss to Anaheim before finishing with a plus-1 rating in the 5-2 loss to San Jose.
"Kind of the rule we have in Ottawa is if you play well, you get to play," said MacLean, who was frustrated by his team's play in that game and rifled through a number of different line combinations and defense pairings. "Since he's come up here, he's played well. So, if you're playing well, we'd better get you on the ice and get you playing with as good of players as we can play you with."
That meant a shift out to the right wing in order to get the talented Swedish forward a spot among the top two lines. He'll start out playing with center Kyle Turris and left wing Clarke MacArthur, who missed the San Jose game with an undisclosed minor injury.
MacArthur is expected to rejoin the starting lineup against the Blackhawks, while Zibanejad tries to keep his hot hand going while playing with a more skill-oriented unit.
"You just take everything you can get on your way up, I guess," he said. "Earn your minutes and just play hard. [I'll be] with two great players who see the ice real well and work hard, so I'll just try to add onto that with some speed and be around the net and try to be hard on the puck. I don't think I necessarily have to go away from what I've been doing so far. That's what's led me to this place right now and where I'm at right now."
Craig Anderson, originally from nearby Park Ridge, Ill., will get the start in net for the Senators while defenseman Eric Gryba will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game.
The Blackhawks, fresh off a 5-1 blowout of the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Monday night, did not hold a full morning skate, instead having likely healthy scratches Ben Smith and Michal Rozsival working through drills against starting goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Finishing off the second of 18 back-to-back sets on the schedule, starter Corey Crawford will get a night off after picking up the win against the Wild.
It also gives Khabibulin (3.97 goals-against average, .818 save percentage) a chance to erase the bad taste from allowing all six goals in a 6-5 overtime loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning last week.
“It’ll be a good opportunity for him and that’s where we’re at,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s good [for him] to get back in the net. We’re comfortable that he’s going to be a big part of it and help us out as we go along here. Let’s play well in front of him.”
Here is how the Senators and Blackhawks might line up on Tuesday night:
Milan Michalek – Jason Spezza – Bobby Ryan
Clarke MacArthur – Kyle Turris – Mika Zibanejad
Cory Conacher – Zack Smith – Chris Neil
Colin Greening – Derek Grant – Erik Condra
Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen – Joe Corvo
Chris Phillips – Patrick Wiercioch
Scratched: Eric Gryba, Matt Kassian, Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad – Brandon Pirri – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Jeremy Morin
Brandon Bollig – Marcus Kruger – Brad Mills
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy – Sheldon Brookbank
Scratches: Ben Smith, Michal Rozsival
Injured: Michal Handzus (day-to-day, upper body), Michael Kostka (IR, foot)