The Blackhawks take on the Panthers in their third game of a six-game southern road trip.
Both teams are coming off victories but have been trending in different directions lately: the Panthers have won four of their last five games while the Blackhawks have only won two. The Blackhawks will be looking to recapture their February success as they get deeper into the daunting March schedule.
The Panthers have been coming on strong lately, earning a point in seven of their last eight games, most recently a pair of wins against the Blue Jackets. They rallied back from a 4-1 deficit to win in overtime against the Jackets on Thursday on the back of a Frank Vatrano goal. Those wins illustrate how the Panthers are similar to the Blackhawks — they have resiliency in spades and are also Comeback Kids.
Driving the Panthers success has been primarily their offense: they are a top five team in goals per game at 5-on-5 and have a top 10 power play. They are led by the dynamic forward duo of Jonathan Huberdeau (10 G, 22 A) and Aleksander Barkov (9 G, 19 A) as well as wily vet Patric Hornqvist (11 G, 11 A). Defensemen Aaron Ekblad (9 G, 10 A) and Keith Yandle (3 G, 14 A) have also been productive from the backend. Familiar face Anthony Duclair (2G, 8 A) is expected to make his return to the lineup Saturday after being sidelined for over a week with a lower body injury. While the skaters for the Panthers have been flying high lately, the story in net has been just so-so: Sergei Bobrovsky — who will reportedly be in net — has been substandard with a .903 save percentage and 3.01 goals above average.
While the Panthers have been playing some of their best hockey to date, the Blackhawks have been been very inconsistent as of late — both in record and in performance. Before the road trip, they played some of their best hockey against the Lightning and scraped out three points against the defending Stanley Cup champions. However, the Blackhawks allowed six goals in the final Lightning game and then another six against the offensively mediocre Dallas Stars on Tuesday. The Blackhawks did defeat the Stars in the second game of the series on Thursday, but that was primarily due to an obscenely high shooting percentage to start, scoring four goals on eight shots. Hockey is weird so the Blackhawks will take the points and run, but it’s a bit disappointing after the February success.
Kevin Lankinen, who hasn’t been as steady in recent games either, bounced back strong against the Stars on Thursday and is now 10-4-4 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average for the season. After a slow scoring start to the season, Dominik Kubalik (10 G, 11 A) is on a 30-goal pace for a 82-game season. The hockey soulmate story between Alex Debrincat (15 G, 14 A) and Patrick Kane (11 G, 29 A) continued Thursday against the Stars after being held without a point the prior game. Defensemen Adam Boqvist has been flashing his high-end offensive skills lately, earning nine points in his last 10 games, and making notable strides on defense. The rest of the Blackhawks young team — Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, Brandon Hagel, Nicolas Beaudin, and Ian Mitchell — have been as inconsistent as the team overall lately but have also all stood out for various reasons over the last few games.
The Blackhawks’ future is still bright. They just need focus on improving consistency of play in the present if they want to survive March in a playoff position.
Tale of the tape
Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers
46.62% (30th) — Corsi For — 52.03% (7th)
45.23% (30th) — Expected goals for — 53.84% (6th)
3.04 (14th) — Goals per game — 3.38 (5th)
3.07 (19th) — Goals against per game — 2.85 (13th)
47.0% (26th) — Faceoffs — 49.0% (20th)
31.0% (3rd) — Power play — 26.3% (8th)
73.9% (24th) — Penalty kill — 77.6% (19th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Suter — Kane
Kubalik — Kampf — Hagel
Janmark — Soderberg — Kurashev
Carpenter — Wallmark — Highm
Keith — Boqvist
de Haan — Mitchell
Zadorov — Murphy
Marchment — Barkov — Verhaeghe
Huberdeau — Wennberg — Hornqvist
Vatrano — Luostarinen — Tippett
Acciari — Lammikko — Duclair
Weegar — Ekblad
Yandle — Stralman
Gudas — Forsling
How to watch
When: 6:00 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV, ESPN+