The Chicago Blackhawks meet one of the top contenders in the Western Conference for the first time this season as the Anaheim Ducks visit the United Center on Tuesday night. Anaheim is currently atop the conference with a league-leading seven victories, even after the punch-filled 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
Rookie goaltender Scott Darling is getting the nod for the Blackhawks once again after his impressive NHL debut on Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, although this should be a more difficult matchup. With guys like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, the Ducks have some of the most impressive scoring talent in the league.
Darling stopped 32 of 33 saves in the 2-1 victory over the Sens, earning the Lemont, Ill., native a first star in his first NHL appearance. One of the things that was immediately apparent about the 6'6, 232-pound goalie was his size, and in that matchup against Ottawa, he showed impressive mobility getting that sizable frame around the net. Repeating that performance against Anaheim's elite scorers won't be easy, but would be even more impressive.
Now the real question is whether Darling can snag that backup spot from Antti Raanta once Corey Crawford is back in the lineup. If the nod on Tuesday night is any indication, the coaching staff is seemingly warming up to Darling, and if he comes through again against the Ducks, there will be some tough decisions to make.
Opponent Breakdown: Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are one of the most talented teams in the NHL, currently first in the Pacific Division with a 7-2-0 record. Perry and Getzlaf combine to produce one of the most devastating first lines around, and Frederik Andersen has established himself as a steady option in goal early on.
Neutralizing that first line will ultimately be the core goal for Chicago. Perry and Getzlaf have been absolutely bonkers so far this season, with the former tied for the league lead in goals scored and the latter doing the same in assists. Regardless of who's the third piece tonight -- reports say it could be Dany Heatley, who's set to make his season debut -- stopping those two will be a major challenge for Darling and company.
The other will be actually scoring goals, and there might be some good news on that end. Backup goaltender John Gibson is reportedly going to start for Anaheim instead of Andersen on Tuesday, and he's been pretty shaky this season. The 20-year-old allowed seven goals on 56 shots (.875 save percentage) in two starts earlier this year.
Taking advantage of the favorable matchup in goal will be important, especially against an otherwise balanced team -- the Ducks rank seventh in the NHL in both goals scored and allowed per game. One place where the 'Hawks might be able to take advantage is the power play, since Anaheim ranks in the bottom half of the league in penalty kill percentage so far. Peppering shots on Gibson with the man advantage would seem like a good plan if they can get the chances.
The Blackhawks still don't have Crawford or Daniel Carcillo, who's dealing with a lower body injury. Crawford skated with the team Tuesday and could be back by the end of the week, while Car Bomb needs a few weeks and could ultimately be placed on LTIR soon.
Anaheim is reportedly getting Heatley in the lineup for the first time since he signed in the offseason. It appears the Ducks' only major absence will be Ben Lovejoy, who's currently on IR after suffering a broken finger last week.
|Scott Darling||G||John Gibson
|ALSO SEE: ANAHEIM CALLING, SBN'S Ducks BLOG|
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: United Center
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