Blackhawks Buzz: February 3 at Los Angeles Kings
Perhaps the most telling stat leading into Monday's game is the fact that the Los Angeles Kings have been shut out in three of their last six games dating back to Jan. 23, and have not scored more than one goal in any of the other three outings. Even more alarming for a team with postseason aspirations: They are literally a one-man show on offense right now, as Anze Kopitar has accounted for all three of those tallies. In their two previous meetings this season, L.A. has scored just once, so the Blackhawks' path to collecting two points hinges on continuing to keep the Kings off the board.
The Blackhawks went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill on Saturday at San Jose and has not allowed a goal in eight straight games, staving off 24 straight shorthanded stints dating back to Jan. 17. After leaking goals through the first two months of the season, Chicago's PK has stabilized itself as of late, especially away from the United Center, where they rank 13th in the league with a 82.8 percent success rate. The Kings may not be the team that breaks the streak, as their power play ranks second-to-last in the NHL at 13.9 percent, but they do have weapons on the man advantage, including Drew Doughty, who ranks eighth among NHL defensemen with 3:53 per game on the PP.
Although L.A. has struggled to get on the scoresheet lately, they have made it incredibly difficult for opponents to do the same all season long. The Kings lead the league with just 2.07 goals allowed per game, including a combined nine shutouts between starter Jonathan Quick and backups Martin Jones and Ben Scrivens (now with Edmonton). Quick, a two-time Olympian who could be Team USA's starting netminder in Sochi next week, has a 6-11-1 career record against the Blackhawks, posting a .915 save percentage and two blankings.
Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss at San Jose was the 14th time this season that the Blackhawks have been defeated after regulation; the team has won just one of their last seven shootouts. Brandon Saad netted Chicago's lone goal and has five points (3G, 2A) in his last three games, while Marian Hossa—who picked up an assist on Saad's goal against the Sharks—has four (2G, 2A) in that same span. And despite going 1-0-2 over the first half of the six-game road swing, Corey Crawford has stopped 80 of 84 shots for a .952 SV% in those three appearances.
Monday's tilt features two of the league's best faceoff teams; the Kings lead the NHL with a team faceoff win percentage of 53.3, while the Blackhawks rank seventh with 51.7 percentage. Chicago's success has rested on two pivots in particular: Captain Jonathan Toews ranks ninth in the NHL, winning 56.6 percent of his draws this season, while Marcus Kruger leads the team and ranks seventh in the league with a 57.1 win percentage. Their continued success will go a long way to establishing their game against the Kings.
Pitting the top two puck possession teams in the league should make for a marquee matchup, but both L.A. and Chicago are struggling for consistency before the Olympic break. The Kings must find offense beyond Anze Kopitar, and the Blackhawks have yet to hit their peak during a season-long road trip through the Pacific Division. This tilt hinges on whether Chicago's league-leading offense can crack the Kings' notably tough defense, and whichever team gets more secondary scoring will likely take the two points.