Sunday, February 25th, 1:00PM PST
TV: Prime, NHLN-US
Radio: AM 830
The Enemy: Second City Hockey
The Anaheim Ducks will continue with game three of this four-game homestand, taking on the Chicago Blackhawks, who have been surprisingly bad so far this season. Many expected Chicago to see some bumps in the road as they sorted out their cap space issues, but I don’t think anyone would have predicted that they would be at the very bottom of the Central Division, buried 12 points behind the next closest division rival at this stage in the season.
It is very safe to say that Chicago will be missing the playoffs this year, and that means that their remaining 18 games will be played exclusively for pride and spoiler potential. The Hawks will play today at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Kings before making the arduous journey from LA to Orange County to fulfill the second half of back-to-backs against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks (32-21-12, 76 pts) are fresh off a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets that saw the Ducks penalty kill come in clutch, being the decisive factor in the game. Anaheim was 4-for-4 on the penalty kill against the Jackets, scored a short-handed goal, and proceeded to then set up a second breakaway goal for Josh Manson as that same penalty expired.
The Blackhawks (27-29-8, 62 pts) have been in a slide yet again this season, going only 3-7-0 in their last 10. They have lost two straight coming into today’s game against the Kings, with their last effort being an embarrassing 7-2 defeat at the hands of the San Jose Sharks. Ducks fans would greatly appreciate if the Blackhawks could prevent the same thing from happening today, as a win over the Kings would greatly benefit Anaheim in the playoff race.
The absence of Corey Crawford in the lineup for the Hawks has more or less been the leading factor in their demise this season. They have tried to find other options to help them put a band-aid on the issue until Crawford could return, but they were unable to do so before it became too late. Stan Bowman offered Blackhawks fans a bit of a cryptic message last week, stating that Crawford “would play hockey again”. That leaves open the possibility that he could return this season, but fans will not know for sure until a further update is issued on the status of their missing #1 goaltender.
All Eyes On Me
For this game, I will be watching for Ondrej Kase to make an offensive impact for the Ducks. In their last game against Chicago, the Ducks saw Ondrej record a goal and two assists, factoring in all three goals in a 3-2 victory on February 15th. The line of Henrique-Kase-Ritchie has looked dangerous almost every game since they were put together, and against a struggling Blackhawks team that needs better depth, the Ducks could see a good matchup advantage on the 3rd line. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kase back on the scoresheet in this game against Chicago, as he has been more quiet than usual recently.
Keys to the Game
Special Teams - The Ducks won the special teams battle against the Columbus Blue Jackets and it ultimately resulted in two huge points in the standings for Anaheim. If they can keep that momentum rolling, they should be able to find a way to secure another two critical points against Chicago.
The Return of Captain Dad - Ryan Getzlaf missed the game against Columbus due to the flu, but he should be returning to the lineup on Sunday against the Blackhawks. His impact on the top line with Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry will be very important in the matchup battle against the top line of Chicago. Side note, his presence back on the number one power play unit will be very welcomed.
Continue Protecting Home Ice - The Ducks have been on fire at home in recent weeks, and keeping that trend moving in the right direction will be crucial in their push for a playoff position at this time next month.