If there’s a game to get back into the Connor Bedard sweepstakes and start losing again, it’s probably this one.
The Chicago Blackhawks welcome the 4-1-1 Florida Panthers to town on Tuesday, with the Panthers fresh off two 3-2 games (one an overtime loss against Tampa and one a regulation win against the Islanders).
However, despite their record, the Panthers are not the best team on either end of the ice. The Panthers have scored just 19 goals in six games — the fourth worst offense in the Atlantic Division — and have allowed 17 (also fourth worst). The Panthers also come in needing to get back on track, and this is not likely a team the Blackhawks, with their trade-fodder roster, should be able to beat.
The Panthers are a puck-dominant team, although they have not been as good at controlling for quality. Florida is sixth in the NHL at 5-on-5 so far this season with a 55.64 percent shot share, but that number drops to 52.72 percent for expected goal share (11th) and 50 percent for high-danger share (14th).
The Blackhawks, who have so far been dominated in terms of puck possession, are unlikely to see the puck much in this contest.
The Panthers are led by newly acquired winger Matthew Tkachuk, for whom the team traded Jonathan Huberdeau, a 100-point player last season, and MacKenzie Weegar, a true first-pairing defenseman. Tkachuk has eight points in six games this year, the lone Panther at a point-per-game pace or better so far.
The next three highest-scorers for the Panthers indicate some sort of trouble in Sunrise, as Eetu Luostarinen, Colin White and Gustav Forsling are all at five points. White left the Senators roster in the offseason and Luostarinen has played four seasons with his career-high in points being 26. Forsling is a defenseman.
Should-be dependable scorers for the Panthers are not yet finding their scoring touch. Aleksander Barkov is at just four points, with no goals through the first six games, while Sam Bennett is also at four points with just one goal. Sam Reinhart has one point, Carter Verhaeghe two goals and Aaron Ekblad is hurt again.
In other words, even if the Blackhawks should not win this game, from a team makeup or lottery contention standpoint, it would not be “unicorn-sighting” shocking if they did.
Chicago, after all, saw a re-emergence of Patrick Kane on Sunday, as the winger picked up two assists after having just one point in the first four games. Tyler Johnson is somehow on a point-per-game pace one season after getting an artificial disk inserted into his spine and Sam Lafferty, a pleasant surprise last season, is also on a point-per-game pace.
The penalty kill has now scored four goals in five games and the Blackhawks are getting good production from young forwards like Philipp Kurashev and Taylor Raddysh while fellow youngster Filip Roos looks good defensively.
The Blackhawks are (somehow) tied for third in the Central Division with a game-in-hand and just a point behind the Avalanche. Yes, the Blues have a game in hand and have won three of their four games, but Chicago being in this position, even this early, would have been shocking before the season. They are not supposed to be good, yet they’ve allowed fewer goals than the Panthers.
It feels like the Blackhawks and Wild have somehow Freaky Friday-d, as the Wild are 1-3-1 and have allowed 27 goals to their 19 goals scored. That’s what the Blackhawks are supposed to look like. Perhaps Alex Stalock and Marc-Andre Fleury smiled at each other and accidentally switched bodies.
Either way, maybe it’s just too early and the Blackhawks got to the coffee pot before other teams, that’ll wake up soon. The Blackhawks’ three wins have come against teams who have a combined record of 7-9-4 (although the Red Wings are actually competitive to start the season) after all.
Let’s get back to tanking, Hawks.
Tale of the tape (statistics from last season)
Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers
45.98% (30th) — Corsi For — 56.36% (1st)
45.48% (30th) — Expected goals for — 55.88 (2nd)
2.60 (29th) — Goals per game — 4.11 (1st)
3.52 (26th) — Goals against per game — 2.95 (12th)
49.6% (16th) — Faceoffs — 48.2% (22nd)
19.2% (21st) — Power play — 24.4% (5th)
76.2% (24th) — Penalty kill — 79.5% (16th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Anthanasiou — Domi — Kane
T. Johnson — Toews — Raddysh
Kurashev — Dickinson — Lafferty
Khaira — Blackwell — Entwistle
J. Johnson — S. Jones
Tinordi — Murphy
McCabe — Roos
Verhaeghe — Barkov — Reinhart
Balcers — Bennett — Tkachuk
Luostarinen — Lundell — White
Lomberg — Cousins — Hornqvist
Forsling — Montour
Mahura — Gudas
Kiersted — Staal
How to watch, listen
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WGN 720 (in the Chicagoland area)
Live stream: Sling TV