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Banned in DC: Blackhawks-Capitals Preview

It’s the first of a Blackhawks’ three-game road trip to the northeast.

NHL: NOV 21 Blackhawks at Capitals Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the calendar turns to December, the Blackhawks head to Washington to begin a three-game road trip that starts on Thursday night against the Capitals.

The Capitals, currently 14-4-5 on the season, own an impressive record of 7-1-3 at the Capital One Arena. While only a quarter of the way into the season, the Caps have managed to escape all but one home game with points thus far. The Blackhawks surely have their work cut out for them in the Nation’s Capital.

While its no secret that the Blackhawks have struggled to find an offensive rhythm, Washington is tied for the top spot in the league with 82 goals scored. Although Alex Ovechkin — who continues to chase Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record — leads the Capitals with 37 points (19 G, 19 A), he’s not the only threat Chicago will have to neutralize in order to stay afloat. Three other Capitals — Evgeny Kuzenetsov, Tom WIlson and John Carlson — all have over 20 points on the season and 25 different players have found the back of the net for Washington this year.

Marc-Andre Fleury gets the call in net for Chicago. Having played 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, Fleury is no stranger to the Capitals but will have a tall task ahead of him once more.

Even with all of talent residing in Washington’s lineup, the Caps are not free of the injury bug. The dangerous Nicklas Backstrom remains out with a hip injury. Anthony Mantha and Justin Schultz are both currently on injured reserve. Conor Sheary, who did not play in the Capitals last game due to an upper-body injury, will also be absent from the lineup on Thursday. If the Hawks can gain some matchups, they may be able to take advantage of the holes in Washington’s lineup.

On the flip side, the Capitals are fourth in the league, averaging just 2.48 goals against per game, which isn’t good news for the struggling Blackhawks offense. A team with the firepower of the Capitals is not necessarily an ideal opponent to get into a 60-minute shootout with, but the Hawks have to find ways to score goals any way that they can.

There’s no beating around the bush: the Blackhawks offense has been missing for so long, it may as well be on the side of a milk carton. Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik have all underperformed offensively thus far. Jonathan Toews has yet to light the lamp without the goal being called off. If the Hawks don’t put something together soon, they are likely to drop completely out of the playoff hunt, which remains open for now in the subpar Western Conference.

The Blackhawks remain mostly healthy, with Riley Stillman being a game-time decision, and Calvin de Haan (who is out for Thursday’s game) both taking part in Thursday’s morning skate. Mackenzie Entwistle and Tyler Johnson both remain out with injuries. Dylan Strome makes his way onto coach Derek King’s roster card, taking the place of Reese Johnson, who is a healthy scratch. Josiah Slavin — younger brother of Hurricanes defenseman Jacob Slavin — will make his NHL debut on Thursday. The 23-year-old forward tallied 8 points (4 G, 4 A) in 15 games with the Rockford Icehogs this season.

A lot of focus has been spent attempting to fix the Blackhawks defense. However, in addressing their defensive woes, the script has been flipped. In order for the Hawks to grab points on their upcoming road trip, they must create opportunities for themselves and find ways to score however they can. It doesn’t have to be pretty. And besides, the best defense is a good offense, right?

Blackhawks — Statistic — Capitals

45.66% (29th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 50.73% (14th)

42.54% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 50.30% (12th)

2.10 (30th) — Goals per game — 3.57 (5th)

3.19 (25th) — Goals against per game — 2.48 (4th)

48.1% (t-22nd) — Faceoffs — 46.9% (29th)

16.2% (23rd) — Power play — 18.3% (18th)

84.8% (9th) — Penalty kill — 83.6% (11th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

Hagel — Toews — Kane

DeBrincat — Dach — Strome

Kubalik — Borgstrom — Khaira

Hardman — Slavin — Carpenter

Stillman(?) — Jones

McCabe — Murphy

Gustafsson — Jones

Fleury

Lankinen

Capitals

Ovechkin — Kuznetsov — Protas

Sprong — Eller — Wilson

Hagelin — Dowd — Hathaway

Malenstyn — McMichael — Leason

Fehervary — Carlson

Orlov — Jensen

van Riemsdyk — Schultz

Vanecek

Samsonov

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+