This week’s games against the Stars completed the Blackhawks’ first circuit of the Central Division, with the team now having played two games against each team. The next leg of the schedule begins on Thursday night at the United Center with Chicago hosting Columbus.
The Blue Jackets have spent this season in the headlines for reasons outside of hockey results, leading to fellow SB Nation site The Cannon to describe it as a “traveling circus.” A feud between young forward Pierre Luc-Dubois and coach John Tortorella resulted in Dubois being traded to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine. Since Laine arrived in Columbus, he’s benched by Tortorella because of a reported exchange with an assistant coach. Then Mikku Koivu retired. Then speculation surfaced that Tortorella may want out. Then Tortorella and Laine both claimed the feud is over and they’re “by it” — whatever that means.
Also, young defenseman Zach Werenski remains on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Werenski is traveling with the Blue Jackets on their current road trip but it doesn’t appear he’s quite ready to return to game action yet. Columbus did activate goaltender Elvis Merzlikins from injured reserve, although he’ll be backing up Joonas Korpisalo on Thursday night.
It’s a much rosier situation in Chicago, with the Blackhawks riding a 6-1-3 stretch that’s surpassed all expectations from the preseason. An electric power play and rock-solid goaltending have been the driving forces, and the latter should continue against Columbus with Kevin Lankinen expected to again get the nod in net. Not that the power play needed an extra boost, but Adam Boqvist’s return from COVID-19 Protocol could add even more firepower to the Blackhawks’ No. 1 power-play unit.
Additional updates from the morning skate include the continued absence of defenseman Connor Murphy, who missed Tuesday’s game with an apparent hip ailment and will be out 10-14 days. Andrew Shaw has also been placed in the concussion protocol, which is discouraging news given his extensive history with concussions. Matthew Highmore is expected to replace Shaw in the lineup and Chicago will roll with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen again.
Kevin Lankinen officially starting for Blackhawks.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) February 11, 2021
Highmore in for Shaw, rest of group the same. So still 11F, 7D. https://t.co/PrQY989jYC
Columbus is one of the worst 5on-5 possession teams in the league, as indicated by the data below. While the Blackhawks have been winning more lately, the possession numbers could be better and this is a team that the Blackhawks can use to bolster their possession game. Combine that with quality goaltending and strong special teams play, and the Blackhawks have a pair of very winnable games ahead on Thursday and Saturday. Still feels a bit weird to say that, doesn’t it?
Let’s go Hawks!
Tale of the Tape
Blackhawks — Statistic — Blue Jackets
46.97% (27th) — Corsi For — 45.14% (30th)
47.16% (23rd) — Expected goals for — 42.87% (30th)
2.79 (20th) — Goals per game — 2.71 (23rd)
2.79 (17th) — Goals against per game — 3.14 (21st)
49.9% (17th) — Faceoffs — 49.5% (20th)
35.6% (3rd) — Power play — 13.2% (25th)
83.0% (9th) — Penalty kill — 77.4% (22nd)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Janmark — Suter — Kane
DeBrincat — Strome — Kubalik
Kurashev — Soderberg — Hagel
Highmore — Kampf — TBD
Keith — Mitchell
de Haan — Carlsson
Zadorov — Beaudin
Laine — Roslovic — Atkinson
Domi — Stenlund — Bjorkstrand
Grigorenko — Texier — Jenner
Foligno — Nash — Robinson
Gavrikov — Jones
Harrington — Savard
Del Zotto — Peeke
How to watch
When: 7 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV