After facing one of the league’s worst teams on Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks’ degree of difficulty ramps up on Sunday with the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning traveling to 1901 W. Madison.
The Lightning have probably been waiting for the Hawks’ arrival, actually, with Tampa having Saturday off following Friday’s 3-1 win at home over the Detroit Red Wings. That game spelled out the differences in quality between Tampa and Detroit, with the Lightning owning every 5-on-5 statistical category: 48-36 in shot attempts, 26-20 in shots on goal, 11-7 in high-danger chances and roughly 59-41 in expected goal share percentage. Based on season-long statistics, Tampa enters this game with a similarly lopsided statistical advantage over Chicago as well.
The Lightning sit in second place in the Atlantic Division with 78 points in 36 games, just one behind the Florida Panthers’ 79 in 37, but Tampa will likely remain atop everyone’s list of Cup-contending teams given its reputation. Every weapon from this fully operational Death Star of a team is firing. Steven Stamkos has 61 points (27 G, 34 A) in 53 games. Victor Hedman has 54 (11 G, 43 A) in 54 from the blue line. Alex Killorn has 45 (16 G, 29 A) in 54. Brayden Point has 41 (22 G, 19 A) in 40. Nikita Kucherov was a late arrival but has already racked up 28 (10 G, 18 A) in 19. Tampa has even reanimated the corpse of Corey Perry, who has 29 (15 G, 14 A) in 54 — more points than he’s scored in a season since 2017-18.
Oh, and Tampa also has one of the best goalies in the league with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The 27-year-old netminder has a 29-9-4 record, .921 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average. Vasilevskiy is not merely riding the coattails of the skaters in front of him, either. His goals saved above average mark of 14.84 is No. 7 in the league, according to Hockey Reference.
The closest thing to a weakness with this Tampa team comes in special teams play, where the Lightning are closer to league average: No. 15 on the power play with a 21.4 percent conversation rate and No. 18 on the penalty kill at 79.4. Not that any reminders are needed, but Sunday’s game brings as tall of a task as the Blackhawks will face this season.
Speaking of those Blackhawks, Saturday’s disappointing result against the Flyers certainly lowers the bar of what to expect on Sunday but Chicago will have Marc-Andre Fleury in net after he was rested for the aforementioned game against Philly. Other lineup changes can be expected because of what happened on Saturday but the back-to-back nature of these games means they won’t be known until much later in the day.
Another storyline to watch is the lingering animosity that could remain from last season, especially in this game:
It’s certainly a mismatch on paper but perhaps the Hawks find a way to do much of the opposite of what they did against the Flyers and mount a worthy challenge to one of the league’s best. Hockey remains weird, so the Hawks being blown out by six goals or stealing a win with an overtime tally could both happen.
At least the Blackhawks only have to play Tampa twice this season, right?
Blackhawks — Statistic — Lightning
46.86% (26th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 51.03% (11th)
45.95% (28th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 53.49% (5th)
2.46 (30th) — Goals per game — 3.41 (7th)
3.39 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.74 (9th)
48.4% (22nd) — Faceoffs — 49.7% (16th)
20.6% (17th) — Power play — 21.4% (15th)
75.9% (25th) — Penalty kill — 79.4% (18th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
Kubalik — Strome — Kane
DeBrincat — Toews — T. Johnson
Hagel — Dach — Entwistle
Kurashev — Carpenter — Lafferty
C. Jones — Murphy
de Haan — S. Jones
Stillman — McCabe
Palat — Point — Kucherov
Killorn — Stamkos — Cirelli
Maroon — Bellemare — Perry
Katchouk — Colton — Joseph
Hedman — Rutta
McDonagh — Cernak
Sergachev — Foote
How to watch
When: 6 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network