The Chicago Blackhawks could use a better performance after stumbling Friday night in Detroit, and they should get that chance against a struggling Dallas Stars team on Sunday evening. Dallas has lost eight of its past 10 games after a solid start to the season, and will now be without young winger Valeri Nichushkin for months due to a hip injury.
That means a somewhat favorable matchup for the Blackhawks, and coming off a 4-1 loss to the Red Wings that represented arguably their worst performance of the season, they could use it. Following tonight's game at the United Center, the 'Hawks will head on a six-game road trip that concludes with a back-to-back against L.A. and Anaheim.
Considering the difficulty of that stretch, getting back to form with a win over Dallas is rather important, even if it's early in the season. Those road trips can be rough and while the team has a few days off before it starts, starting with a two-game losing streak probably wouldn't be the way to go.
There will be a few things to watch Sunday night, including the Blackhawks' penalty kill against the Stars' struggling power play and the usual line blending after some apparent changes to the opening groups. Still, I'm feeling pretty good about the team at home against a poor possession team that's struggled badly in recent weeks.
Opponent Breakdown: Dallas Stars
The Stars are currently last in the Central Division with a 6-7-4 record after their losing skid, but there have been signs of life lately. The team shut out the Kings, 2-0, on Thursday and played the Wild tough in a 2-1 loss on Saturday, looking more like the team some folks projected entering the season.
One aspect of the Stars that's gotten scrutiny is the team's power play, which was supposed to be a goal-scoring machine this season after adding Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to a group featuring Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Trevor Daley. However, a 16.1 percent conversion rate is currently 20th in the NHL, and Benn has just one PPG.
That doesn't mean Dallas can't be dangerous offensively, but it's mostly revolved about Seguin, who has 22 points (12G, 10A) and positive possession numbers (53.4 5v5 FF%) in 17 games this season. He's currently tied for the league lead in goals scored and tied for the third in points.
The Stars don't have nearly as much present day talent on defense, where they're having a bit of a youth movement after dealing Sergei Gonchar to Montreal. Dallas is currently 25th in the league in goals allowed per game (3.2) and doesn't really have a competent backup behind Kari Lehtonen. The current No. 2, Anders Lindback, has a .852 save percentage in three games (all losses) this season.
So the Stars are a talented offensive team that's mostly underperformed with below-average possession numbers and a shaky defense. There's enough up top to make them dangerous on any given night, and things could come together on the defensive end with some time and experience, but again, Dallas is vulnerable these days.
The Blackhawks are still without Patrick Sharp, who will miss at least a few more games. Daniel Carcillo is expected to return tonight.
The Stars just lost Nichushkin to hip surgery after he appeared in just four games this season. He's expected to be out four months and puts a dent in the team's forward corps. Rich Peverley and Patrik Nemeth are also out indefinitely, while Patrick Eaves and Travis Moen are questionable.
|Blackhawks vs. Stars lineups
|Also see: Defending Big D, SBN's blog|
When: 6 p.m. CT
Where: United Center
TV: WGN, TVA