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Preview: Delia starts as Blackhawks face Quenneville’s Panthers

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Chicago continues the search for its first win of 2021.

Chicago Blackhawks v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks remain in search of their first win of the 2021 season and will look to earn it Sunday evening against former coach Joel Quenneville and the Panthers.

While this is Game 3 for the Blackhawks it’s Game 1 for the Panthers after their first two were postponed by a COVID-19 outbreak on the Stars. Last season, the Panthers boasted one of the league’ top offenses, led by a 78-point season (23 goals, 55 assists) in 69 nice games from leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau. Aleksander Barkov added 62 points (20 G, 42 A), followed by 59 points from Mike Hoffman and 47 points from Evgenii Dadonov. That firepower didn’t translate into postseason success, though, with the Islanders eliminating Florida in four games during the 2020 qualifying round.

The problem for Florida? Defense. Much of that blame fell on the shoulders of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a 7-year, $70 million contract in 2019 but posted numbers well below that last season: 23-19-6 record, .900 save percentage, 3.23 goals-against average and -14.91 goals saved above average (according to Hockey Reference). Because of those subpar defensive numbers, the Panthers roster was reshaped in the offseason in search of that famed hockey cliche of “becoming tougher to play against.” Gone are the aforementioned Dadonov and Hoffman with veterans Patric Hornqvist, Radko Gudas and Markus Natuivaara among the new acquisitions. Former Blackhawks forward Anthony Duclair and Vinnie Hinostroza along with defenseman Gustav Forsling are also in Florida this season, although early line combinations suggest that only Duclair will be in the lineup. It also appears that Chris Driedger will start in net for Bobrovsky, who could return to action by Tuesday’s game.

For the Blackhawks, it’s a much more level playing field on Sunday after the nearly impossible task of opening the season against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Indications from the morning skate are that the lineup for Game 3 of the season will look the same as Game 2, which includes Collin Delia in net.

Many Central Division projections from the preseason had Florida down near the bottom of the standings with Chicago and Detroit. Defensive flaws remain aplenty in Sunrise, which should give the Blackhawks more room to operate on offense. With two games under their belt already, there could be a level of crispness to Chicago’s game that the Panthers will not be able to match, especially in the opening minutes. After enduring those two games in Tampa, this evening provides a much better opportunity to evaluate all aspects of the Chicago roster.

Let’s go Hawks.

Tale of the tape (statistics from last season)

Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers

48.45% (22nd) — Corsi For — 49.79% (16th)

46.93% (27th) — Expected goals for — 48.09 (24th)

2.97 (18th) — Goals per game — 3.30 (6th)

3.06 (16th) — Goals against per game — 3.25 (28th)

49.9% (17th) — Faceoffs — 50.3% (13th)

15.2% (28th) — Power play — 21.3% (10th)

82.1% (9th) — Penalty kill — 78.5% (20th)

Projected lineups

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Suter — Kane

Kubalik — Strome — Kurashev

Janmark — Wallmark — Shaw

Highmore — Kampf — Carpenter

Keith — Murphy

de Haan — Mitchell

Zadorov — Boqvist

Delia

Subban

Panthers

Verhaeghe — Barkov — Duclair

Huberdeau — Wennberg — Hornqvist

Vatrano — Luostarinen — Tippett

Lomberg — Acciari — Connolly

Weegar — Ekblad

Yandle — Stralman

Stillman — Gudas

Driedger

Montembeault

How to watch

When: 6 p.m.

Where: BB&T Center; Sunrise, Fla.

TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network

Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV