After having their four-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks will look to make it six wins in their last eight games when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center.
Tampa’s 9-7-2 record entering this game isn’t far from Chicago’s 9-8-4 mark. But the Lightning are the defending President’s Trophy winners and entered this seasons with similar expectations. The Lightning have somewhat recovered from a 5-4-2 starter, winning three straight games two weeks ago. But, as has been case all season long, that brief uptick was followed by a two-game losing skid, with the Lightning losing 4-3 to the Jets on Saturday night and 3-1 to the Blues on Tuesday night. Making matters worse, 2018-19 Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov left Tuesday’s game in the second period with an upper-body injury and, after missing Thursday’s morning skate, appears to be out of the lineup for this one.
Offense hasn’t been an issue for Tampa Bay, which enters the game with a fifth-best mark of 3.56 goals per game. The power play has been electric (Get it? Like Lightning?) while converting at a 29.6 percent rate. Captain Steven Stamkos leads the scoring with 7 goals and 13 assists, with Kucherov not far off at 6 and 12, respectively. Many of the other familiar names are still here, too, among Tampa’s forwards: Alex Killorn (13 points), Brayden Point (12 points), Yanni Gourde (11 points), Ondrej Palat (10 points) and Tyler Johnson (10 points). On the blue line, Victor Hedman has 17 points and new addition Kevin Shattenkirk hasn’t disappointed with 15 points.
Behind that blue line, though, is where things have gone wrong for Tampa. The Lightning are allowing 3.44 goals per game — 25th in the league. Goaltenders Andrei Vasilveskiy (-1.44) and Curtis McElhinney (-0.40) are on the negative side of Hockey Reference’s goals-saved above average statistic, and their traditional numbers don’t look any better. Vasilevskiy has a 7-6 record with a .904 save percentage and 2.95 goals-against average, while McElhinney checks in at 2-1-2, .906 and 3.76. Tampa’s penalty kill, which led the league at 85.02 percent last season, has regressed to 21st at 78.1 percent. Tampa’s offense remains formidable but its defense has been the biggest culprit in its early-season struggles. McElhinney gets the net for this start, but his track record against the Blackhawks isn’t great:
This will be just McElhinney's second career start (but 6th appearance) vs. Chicago. The Hawks have won all five prior encounters. McElhinney has an .898 sv% in those games.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) November 21, 2019
Meanwhile for the Blackhawks, the lineup remains in flux with Andrew Shaw’s health still up in the air. Reports from the morning skate suggest that the Blackhawks could go with seven defensemen in the lineup, should Shaw be unable to skate. One piece of the lineup is set, though: Corey Crawford gets the nod in net after Robin Lehner played on Tuesday.
This game as all the makings of a track meet, as each team enters Thursday’s matchup with concerns on the defensive side of the game. But both teams also possess the offensive talent that can take advantage of those holes to light up the scoreboard.
Which virtually guarantees that this will be a 1-0 game.
Let’s go Hawks!
Blackhawks — Statistic — Lightning
46.1% (29th) — Corsi For — 49.9% (16th)
48.5% (26th) — Faceoffs — 51.4% (8th)
3.00 (16th) — Goals per game — 3.56 (5th)
2.90 (10th) — Goals against per game — 3.44 (25th)
13.8% (28th) — Power play — 29.6% (2nd)
80.3% (18th) — Penalty kill — 78.1% (21st)
Colliton said they're still weighing some lineup decisions. Shaw seemed fine at the morning skate, but seven D remains an option.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) November 21, 2019
Kucherov is not on the ice for morning skate. He sustained an upper- body injury in St Louis during the second period and did not return to play the rest of the game. pic.twitter.com/lzyxyOlAI3— Caley Chelios (@CaleyChelios) November 21, 2019
(Side note: yes, that is Chris Chelios’ daughter)
Blackhawks (subject to change based on Shaw’s availability)
Saad — Toews — Nylander
DeBrincat — Strome — Kane
Carpenter — Dach — Smith
Shaw — Kampf — Kubalik
Keith — Gustafsson
De Haan — Seabrook
Maatta — Murphy
Johnson — Point — TBD (Kucherov injured)
Palat — Stamkos — Verhaeghe
Killron — Cirelli — Joseph
Maroon — Paquette — Gourde
Timashov — Shore — Gauthier
Hedman — Shattenkirk
McDonagh — Cernak
Sergachev — Schenn
How to watch
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: NBC Sports app