BLACKHAWKS (1-2-1) at BLUE JACKETS (1-1-0)
TV -- CSN-Chicago (HD), FSN-Ohio (HD)
Season series -- This is the first meeting of the season for Chicago and Columbus. The Blackhawks took last season's series, 4-2, but the Blue Jackets won the last two matchups, including a 4-2 victory at the United Center on March 28.
Big story -- After starting the year in Stockholm, Columbus is back to open its 10th home slate in style with defending Stanley Cup Champions, who have had some trouble finding their feet early in the 2010-11 campaign.
Blackhawks -- Four games into their title defense, the Blackhawks don't seem to have found the same magic they had last season -- at least not yet. Chicago is off to a choppy 1-2-1 start that felt a little bit choppier Wednesday night after the Hawks let two leads slip away in a 3-2 home loss to Nashville. It was the second straight start for young goaltender Corey Crawford, but while the first resulted in his first NHL win, this one saw him give up a game-winner to Nashville's Joel Ward with 26.7 seconds remaining. While the Hawks are looking to get more work for their goaltender of the future this season, veteran Marty Turco wasn't brought in to ride the pine, and is likely to carry the load Friday as well as the rest of the season.
For Turco to keep that job, however, he'll have to improve on his first two starts of the year, which saw him post a .896 save percentage and an alarming 3.41 goals-against average.
-- After a disappointing season in 2009-10, Columbus showed some positive signs in Sweden under new coach Scott Arniel. Despite falling behind San Jose early, the Jackets rallied to tie up the game quickly on goals by Kristian Huselius and R.J. Umberger in an eventual 3-2 loss in the opener at Globe Arena in Stockholm. Columbus followed a day later with a 3-2 win in overtime that saw Mason stop 33 shots. While the victory made for a pleasant flight home, the Jackets still have the potential for rust in the early going Friday. While any residual jet lag should have dissipated by now, Columbus hasn't played in six days, which could lead to a rough first period against the defending champs.
-- Marian Hossa
continues to shine in his first full season in Chicago, leading the team with 6 points through four games. Bryan Bickell
has also been a nice early-season surprise for the Hawks, matching offensive stalwarts Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
with 3 points. … Huselius carried the offense for Columbus in his native Sweden with 2 goals and 2 assists in the two games.
-- The Jackets' toughness could take a hit Friday, as Columbus is expected to be without enforcer Jared Boll, who is battling a lower-back injury. Forward R.J. Umberger is probable with an undisclosed injury. … Chicago may have a surprising absence, as Patrick Kane
is considered doubtful with an illness and did not make the trip to Columbus on Thursday. Coach Joel Quenneville has not ruled out having Kane travel separately on Friday, but he is expected to sit this one out. The Hawks will also be short two defensemen -- Brian Campbell
is sidelined with a sprained knee, while Niklas Hjalmarsson
will sit out the second of his two-game suspension as a result of his hit on Buffalo's Jason Pominville on Monday.
-- In an unusual twist, Chicago is currently the only team in the Central Division to have a negative goal differential, trailing the Red Wings, Preds and Blues and even the cellar-dwelling Jackets. Expect that trend to change soon. A year ago the Hawks outscored their opponents by a 262-203 margin.
-- Mason struggled last season after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2008-09. The Jackets are going nowhere unless Mason returns to the form he had as a rookie, and Arniel thinks he's seeing it happen. After Mason's strong performance in Saturday's win, the coach declared, "I think it's safe to say he's probably got his game back to where it was two years ago." Friday will be the next test to see if he's right.