After blowing multi-goal leads against the Golden Knights and Sabres, the Chicago Blackhawks head southeast to face two of the best teams in the league in back-to-back games, starting with the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
The Panthers come to town fresh off a 7-4 victory over the Canadiens on Tuesday and a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games. Florida added talent at the deadline, including Claude Giroux, who has five points in four games, and Ben Chiarot. The bad news is the Blackhawks already lost to the Panthers without Giroux and Chiarot this season, falling 5-2 on Feb. 20.
The Panthers are led by Jonathan Huberdeau, who is pulling off a Patrick Kane-esque feat, of being a Hart contender — albeit a dark horse candidate — from the team’s second line. Huberdeau has 23 goals and 93 points in 66 games so far this season and should easily clear 100 points this year.
The next closest is Aleksander Barkov with 66 points, who leads the team with 29 goals. Sam Reinhart, now on the third line, is third with 63 points and 24 goals. Former Blackhawk Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe are tied with 49 points, wth Duclair having played fewer games.
The Panthers are currently playing without first defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who’s having a potential Norris-contending season with 57 points in 61 games. Ekblad was on pace for 20 goals from the blue line before landing on injured reserve two weeks ago.
Florida is one of the best teams at 5-on-5 as well, which is clear from their six-point lead over second-place Tampa in the Atlantic Division — you know, the defending two-time Stanley Cup champions. Florida is also tied with Carolina for first place in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand.
Florida is second in shot share (56.08%) and expected goal share at 5-on-5 (56.15%), although the Panthers aren’t as great at controlling high-danger chances (54.18%, seventh in the NHL).
The reason for the Panthers’ great possession numbers is their offense, as the Panthers are first in the league in shots per 60 (37.14), xG per 60 (3.11) and high-danger chances per 60 (13.75) at 5-on-5. The Panthers’ defense is good, but not great, hovering around the top ten in shots against per 60 (29.08, ninth) and xGA/60 (2.43, 11th); however, the Panthers are bad in terms of protecting the crease: 23rd in high-danger chances against per 60 (11.63).
The last time these two teams played against each other, Florida controlled play, with the Blackhawks seeing just a 42.39% expected goal share and 45% shot share, and were not able to take advantage of Florida’s high-danger weakness, getting just four chances on net to five against. The Blackhawks, in a 5-2 loss, had a good PDO (1.020) at 5-on-5 as well.
The other good news is that Boris Katchouk, who has yet to score a point in his Blackhawks tenure, scored an assist in the Lightning’s lone win over the Panthers this season.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers
46.11% (29th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 56.76% (1st)
45.32% (29th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 56.15% (2nd)
2.69 (26th) — Goals per game — 4.06 (1st)
3.48 (25th) — Goals against per game — 2.89 (14th)
48.4% (22nd) — Faceoffs — 47.8% (25th)
21.3% (17th) — Power play — 23% (10th)
75.7% (23rd) — Penalty kill — 79.8% (15th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Strome — Kane
Kubalik — Toews — Raddysh
Kurashev — Borgstrom — T. Johnson
Katchouk — R. Johnson — Lafferty
Gustafsson — S. Jones
McCabe — C. Jones
Stillman — de Haan
Verhaeghe — Barkov — Giroux
Huberdeau — Bennett — Duclair
Marchment — Luostarinen — Reinhart
Lomberg — Acciari — Thornton
Chiarot — Weegar
Forsling — Gudas
Hagg — Montour
How to watch
When: 6 p.m. CT
Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
TV: NBC Sports Chicago