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South California Purples: Blackhawks vs Ducks Preview

One of the teams just outside the Western Conference playoff picture visits the United Center on Tuesday.

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

A team boasting one of the NHL’s brightest young stars visits the United Center on Tuesday night when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks are kicking off a five-game road trip in Chicago that could determine the fate of their season. They are just three points out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, still very much in the race to make the playoffs. But they’ve also played more games than all of the teams above them, so it’s going to take some magic to cross that finish line. With the NHL Trade Deadline fast approaching, the next handful of games likely will impact their strategy going forward: do they go for the positive experience of the playoffs for their young rising stars or be sellers to continue stockpiling for their rebuild?

On their recent homestand, the Ducks ended with a pretty mediocre 3-3-0 record but they performed decently, especially against some of the best teams in the league. They lost by only one goal to legit Cup contenders like the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights while also eking out overtime wins against the lower-seeded San Jose Sharks twice. In those six home games, Cam Fowler had six points (all assists) while Troy Terry (2 G, 3 A), Adam Henrique (2 G, 3 A), and Rickard Rakell (4 G, 1 A) each had five points.

For the season, Terry is easily the Ducks’ best goal scorer with 28 — the next closest is Rakell with 16 — but rookie Trevor Zegras comes in a close second in terms of points with 42 (15 G, 27 A) thanks to his extremely impressive playmaking skills. I mean, we all saw the assist of the season, right? If not, let me remind you:

Other than those two, the Ducks forward depth is decent but they do have limited offensive threats. Ryan Getzlaf is quietly putting up the best production rate (0.66) he’s had in five years, Sonny Milano looks to be on track with 30 points in 45 games after missing almost all of last season with post-concussion symptoms, and both Henrique and Rakell are having solid bounce-back seasons. Every other forward is sub 0.5 points-per-game, but guys like Sam Steel and Nicolas Deslauriers play their role as checking line players well.

In net, the Ducks are expected to have goalie John Gibson back after missing the game against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. He’s having a pedestrian season with just a .910 save-percentage in 40 games, but he also faces the 10th most expected goals against (2.92) among goalies who have played at least 20 games. Backup Anthony Stolarz has fared a bit better with a .917 save-percentage in 19 games, tied for 14th best in the league.

After a poor February showing, the Blackhawks have been of to a slow start in March as well, losing two of their three games so far in the month. The United Center, in particular, has not been kind to the Blackhawks this season — they are just 20-29-8 at home — including their most recent 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. The Blackhawks haven’t looked bad overall in any of their recent games, but they’ve also been prone to just enough big mistakes to cost them several games: like when Chicago allowed three goals in a 32-second span Sunday.

Still, the top trio of Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome have at least made the recent games somewhat entertaining, at least from an offensive standpoint. In their last 10 games, Kane has 15 points (7 G, 8 A), DeBrincat has 10 points (5 G, 5 A), and Strome has six points (3 G, 3 A). Hagel has cooled down from his 0.66 point-per-game rate with five points (4 G, 1 A) over the same span, but he’s always fun to watch whether he’s racking up points or not.

Defensively, the Blackhawks have been on a bit of a backslide when it comes to suppressing quality shots against — at 5-on-5, they went from top 10 in expected goals against (2.26) since Derek King took the helm to 17th (2.48) in their last 10 games. So it’s not shocking they’ve allowed two or fewer goals in only two games in that span, and both times were primarily due to Marc-Andre Fleury’s brilliant performance in net. Giveaways, in particular, have been a major issue for the teams as a collective, resulting in either instant goals against or their opponents getting increased zone time.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks are still struggling to find a balance of a decent, high-danger suppression defense without completely stifling what little offensive threat they possess. The Ducks, with their high-end top-six but shallow offensive depth, should be a test of that balance they can pass — if they play a full 60 minutes. But that’s something they’ve lacked even in improved performance as of late.

Some lineup changes include Henrik Borgstrom in for MacKenzie Entwistle and and Alec Regula in for Riley Stillman. Kirby Dach was also moved to wing during morning skate, which King said was about line balance:

Blackhawks — Statistic — Ducks

46.84% (26th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 48.71% (20th)

45.85% (29th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 48.27% (20th)

2.47 (30th) — Goals per game — 2.90 (21st)

3.44 (25th) — Goals against per game — 3.02 (18th)

48.3% (22nd) — Faceoffs — 48.8% (19th)

20.2% (17th) — Power play — 25.0% (6th)

76.2% (24th) — Penalty kill — 83.0% (8th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Hagel — Toews — Dach

Kubalik — Kurashev — T. Johnson

Borgstrom — Carpenter — Lafferty

de Haan — S. Jones

McCabe — Murphy

C. Jones — Regula

Fleury

Lankinen

Ducks

Henrique — Getzlaf — Terry

Milano — Zegras — Rakell

Steel — Lundestrom — Silfverberg

Deslauriers — Carrick — Grant

Lindholm — Drysdale

Guhle — Fowler

Benoit — Shattenkirk

Gibson

Stolarz

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+