The Holiday Road Ahead: 12/9/13-12/15/13

This is a weekly feature that will run throughout the season on Mondays. It will VERY briefly recap the last week, preview the upcoming week in Chicago Blackhawks hockey and look at where they sit in terms of playoff contention. Additional snippets, notes, content, blurbs and oddments are subject to

This post will be somewhat shorter compared to what the ideal length would be. Finals and finals prep have me pretty out of sorts so please excuse this abbreviated edition of The Holiday Road Ahead.

The Blackhawks saw their six-game winning streak snapped last Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. What followed the loss was what many Chicago Blackhawks fans deemed the apocalypse. An unspeakable terror befell the masses. Thousands of desperate, panicked Chicagoans crowded the streets, looting their local Dominic's or Mariano's of every last canned good they could get their hands on. Shouts of "TRADE EVERYBODY WE ARE AWFUL" and tears of crying children gave the appearance nothing would ever be the same. The calamity lasted for five days and five nights until finally - FINALLY - the sun burst through the clouds on Sunday and a light of happiness, hope even, shone upon the greater Chicagoland area. The people cheered, they laughed, they breathed an air that tasted fresh again. They had done it. They had survived the horrible plague known as a "losing streak."

The Blackhawks could only grab one point in the three games they played against the Stars, the Minnesota Wild and the Anaheim Ducks. It was the first time the Blackhawks had lost three consecutive regular season games since late February 2012. It seems Blackhawks fans have become quite spoiled for them to freak out to the degree that they did after a measly three-game losing streak. It is just the type of thing that happens in a season. The Blackhawks put up 50 shots against Kari Lehtonen who stood on his head and stole the game for the Stars. That is going to happen every now and then. The Blackhawks lost a tough one in Minnesota where they put up a measly 19 shots and lost a shootout to a good Ducks team. It is going to happen throughout the course of a season. Thankfully, the Blackhawks got just what the doctor ordered on a Sunday game I forgot to include in last week's post; the Florida Panthers. The Panthers outshot the Blackhawks but the Blackhawks won because Scott Clemmensen.

There are four games on this week's slate. The Hawks will visit the American Airlines Center Tuesday, exactly one week after the Stars beat the Hawks at the UC. On Wednesday, the Blackhawks will fly home to host the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time since 2011. The Blackhawks will then play their second back-to-back of the week, travelling to play Colton Orr's Toronto Maple Leafs and the fighting Ben Scrivens' AKA the Los Angeles Kings.

Same deal with the Stars as last week except that the game is in Dallas. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen is likely to get the start after a stellar performance in Chicago. This will be the third Blackhawks/Stars game in the past two weeks and fourth overall. The last meeting between these two teams will be in late March. It seems we are starting to see the beginnings of a rivalry between Dallas and Chicago. Antoine Roussel taunting the home crowd after converting a penalty shot goal will only blow air on the kindling fire that is this rivalry. Dallas has some prime young talent in their pipeline and is poised to be a pain in Chicago's Garbutt for the foreseeable future. Full fancy stats are here.

Goaltender Steve Mason, yes, THAT Steve Mason, is eighth in the league in even-strength save percentage at .933 and I know you did not know that. The Flyers have been terrible this year, possession wise. They are 23rd in the NHL at close 5v5 FF percent at 47.9 percent yet only sit three points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The East, ladies and gentlemen. Full fancy stats are here.

Speaking of terrible possession teams, everybody's favorite punching bag holds the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs found a way to beat math and secure the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs last year. This year, they have seen their luck run out. The Leafs are 29th in the league in close 5v5 FF percentage at a paltry 42.2 percent and have only five games this year above 50 percent. In bizzaro world, the Leafs' goaltending has kept them in games. Goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer are playing out of their minds, with .944 and .946 even-strength save percentages, respectively. Full fancy stats are here.

The Kings are second to the Blackhawks in close 5v5 FF percentage at 56 percent. They are a great possession team and they have great goaltending to back up the team in front, but not from who you think. Former Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens has filled in for injured goaltender Jonathan Quick and played exceptionally well to the tune of a league-leading .943 save percentage and second-best 1.56 GAA. A young forward to watch in this game is Tyler Toffoli, who will probably be lighting up the league sooner rather than later. Full fancy stats are here.

Blackhawks fancy stats are here.

Player to watch this week

G Antti Raanta - Raanta Claus will fill in for Corey Crawford while he recovers from his lower-body injury. It will be interesting to see how hard coach Joel Quenneville decides to ride Raanta over the next few weeks, especially with two back-to-backs this week. It is more likely somebody will find Kim Johnsson than it is that "goalie" Nikolai Khabibulin will come back from his "injury" to help carry the load for Raanta. Instead, it seems rookie goaltender Kent Simpson will make his NHL debut at some point soon. Not exactly the ideal situation for Raanta, who will have to adjust to the NHL game faster than what was originally ideal.


Central Standings

Chicago 32 21 6 5 47
St. Louis 28 19 6 3 41
Minnesota 32 18 9 5 41
Colorado 28 20 8 0 40
Dallas 28 14 9 5 33
Winnipeg 31 14 13 4 32
Nashville 30 13 14 3 29

(updated 12.9.2013 at 8:32 AM CST)

Western Standings

Chicago Blackhawks 32 21-6-5 47
Anaheim Ducks 32 20-7-5 45
San Jose Sharks 30 19-6-5 43
Los Angeles Kings 30 19-7-4 42
St. Louis Blues 28 19-6-3 41
Minnesota Wild 32 18-9-5 41
Colorado Avalanche 28 20-8-0 40
Vancouver Canucks 32 17-10-5 39
Phoenix Coyotes 29 16-8-5 37
Dallas Stars 28 14-9-5 33
Winnipeg Jets 31 14-13-4 32
Nashville Predators 30 13-14-3 29
Calgary Flames 29 11-14-4 26
Edmonton Oilers 31 10-18-3 23

Even after a three-game winless streak, the Blackhawks sit atop the Western Conference. Still a pretty nice view from up here.

Nebraska "Fun" Fact of the Week

Kool-Aid was invented in Hastings, Nebraska.