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Blackhawks look to strike back against Lightning

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The defending President’s Trophy winners come to the United Center in the middle of an early-season slump.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

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:

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)

Lineups

(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

Crawford

Lehner

Lightning

JohnsonPoint — TBD (Kucherov injured)

Palat — Stamkos — Verhaeghe

Killron — Cirelli — Joseph

Maroon — Paquette — Gourde

Timashov — Shore — Gauthier

HedmanShattenkirk

McDonagh — Cernak

Sergachev — Schenn

McElhinney

Vasilevskiy

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Live stream: NBC Sports app