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Tacks for Snacks: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights preview

Two teams playing without their captains meet on Tuesday night at the United Center.

NHL: DEC 15 Golden Knights at Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks left wing Philipp Kurashev plays the puck against the Vegas Golden Knights
Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With back-to-back teams against eastern Canadian teams, the Chicago Blackhawks are on a bit of a hot streak ahead of the trade deadline. Patrick Kane elevated his stock with a truly Kane-like performance on Sunday, a hat trick against the Maple Leafs.

But now, the Blackhawks welcome the Vegas Golden Knights, a franchise that has historically had Chicago’s number, to the Windy City. Vegas enters this game with a 6-2-2 record in the team’s last 10 games — including a three-game winning streak — and sits in first place in the Pacific Division.

While Vegas isn’t the most explosive offense within the Pacific — Edmonton has 30 more goals — the team does have the best defense, with 157 goals against in 56 games, fourth-best in the Western Conference (although, if the Avalanche allow two or more goals in their next game, Vegas bumps up to third).

Vegas’s young goaltending tandem of Adin Hill and Logan Thompson have combined to start all of the Golden Knights’ games (despite Thompson’s injury on Feb. 9) and deserve the primary credit for that great defense. Thompson remains a dark horse Vezina candidate, with a .914 mark and two shutouts in his rookie campaign, while Hill is at .910, rebounding from a .906 save percentage last year.

The Golden Knights are led in scoring by Chandler Stephenson, who has 48 points in 56 games this season, with Jack Eichel at 39 in 43. Shea Theodore, who has missed 20 games this season, is coming off a dominant performance against Tampa on Saturday, with one goal and two assists. He’s been the best defenseman for Vegas this season and has 29 points in 36 games.

But the biggest issue for Vegas is that the team’s been incredibly hurt this season. Team captain Mark Stone is out for the rest of the season with a back injury — the same injury that sidelined him last season — and was placed on LTIR on Monday. Stone joins goaltender Robin Lehner and forward Nolan Patrick, who were already out for the season. The Golden Knights have also played without their best goal scorer from the prior season in Max Pacioretty, who was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes last summer.

The Golden Knights are also not as great of team in terms of quantity of possession this season, especially when compared to how they played in seasons before Bruce Cassidy moved behind the bench for 2022-23. The Golden Knights are 20th in Corsi. However, Vegas remains dominant in quality of possession, ranking in the top 10 in shot share, expected goal share and high danger share.

In a season where this Chicago team is still supposed to be losing, playing a game against a hot Vegas team that is 11-2-1 against the Blackhawks all-time seems like an appropriate matchup.

Let’s go IceHogs.

Tale of the Tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Golden Knights

43.03% (32nd) — Corsi For — 49.61% (20th)

40.85% (31st) — Expected goals for — 53.08% (7th)

2.47 (32nd) — Goals per game — 3.23 (13th)

3.62 (27th) — Goals against per game — 2.79 (10th)

55.0% (1st) — Faceoffs — 52.6% (7th)

17.0% (27th) — Power play — 21.1% (18th)

76.2% (22nd) — Penalty kill — 79.3% (17th)

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Stream: ESPN+