Jonathan Toews, Jimmy Howard

NHL Extra: Breaking down Blackhawks vs. Red Wings

Looking for the numbers breakdown for how these two teams stack up? Look no further as we’ve got you covered as the Blackhawks take on the Red Wings at 12:30 p.m. ET from United Center in Chicago.

Insider’s Preview

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers breaks down how today’s game for Chicago is “one last biggest game of the year” as Chicago hopes to clinch a playoff berth with a win.

Team scoring

Detroit can score some goals. They’ve tallied 257 times this year, good for third best in the NHL. They also average 3.12 goals per game, an average that sits second best in the league behind Vancouver. One thing working against them is that their leading point man Henrik Zetterberg is out for this game with a knee injury. That moves the point production pressure to 40 year-old defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom is second on the team in points with 16 goals and 46 assists. Not bad for a guy they thought was looking over the hill last year. Pavel Datsyuk (22 goals, 36 assists) will lead them from the forward spot and hope to get Johan Franzen (26 goals) and Dan Cleary (25 goals) going to try and keep the Blackhawks out of the playoffs.

Chicago can score too though. The Blackhawks have scored 255 goals this year, fourth best in the NHL while averaging 3.07 goals per game, also fourth best in the league. They’re led by three guys that have notched over 70 or more points this year in Jonathan Toews (32 goals, 44 assists), Patrick Kane (27 goals, 45 assists), and Patrick Sharp (34 goals, 36 assists). Marian Hossa isn’t doing too bad either with 25 goals and 31 assists of his own. You’ll see combinations of those guys working throughout the afternoon all over the ice.

Goaltending

Chicago is led by Corey Crawford in goal and while that seemed like a bad idea at the beginning of the year it’s been working out great for the Blackhawks all season. Crawford is 33-17-6 this season with a 2.27 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. When Antti Niemi was let go by the team in the offseason, many wondered if the tandem of Crawford and Marty Turco would be able to give them the same kind of great work in goal that Niemi and Cristobal Huet did last year. Turns out Crawford’s been just as dynamic as Niemi. Should Turco have to jump into the game, you know when he’s not busy making cheeky bets with fans, he’s been average. Turco’s 11-11-3 with 3.03 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.

For Detroit, it’s all about Jimmy Howard and whether or not he can get the defense to help him out. After a tremendous rookie season last year Howard’s come back to earth a bit. He’s still getting the wins, obviously, as he’s 36-17-5 this year but with a 2.78 goals against average and a .908 save percentage there’s a bit left to be desired there. Should Howard run into trouble, there’s no Chris Osgood there to bail him out. Instead it’s Joey MacDonald with his 15-5-5 record and a 2.58 goals against average and .917 save percentage. He’s been good since coming up to take Osgood’s spot but he’s not the guy the Wings want playing in a big game.

Special teams

This game features a pair of the NHL’s best power plays. Chicago’s power play checks in scoring 23.4% of the time, a mark good for fourth in the league. Meanwhile Detroit is right behind them in fifth scoring 22.3% of the time with the man advantage. While they’re both good at scoring, stopping the opponents power play presents a different story.

Detroit’s penalty kill is effective 82.2% of the time, a mark good for 17th in the NHL. Chicago’s could use some work as they stop 79.2% of the power plays they face, the sixth worst mark in the NHL. If the Blackhawks have an Achilles’ heel it comes shorthanded. A parade to the box this afternoon for the Blackhawks would not bode well.

Injuries

Both teams come into today’s game dinged up. Detroit will be without forward Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Chicago is all sorts of maligned as they’ll likely be without forwards Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp are playing through injuries as Sharp recently returned from his own knee injury.

Streaks and standings – Playoff decision edition

The task is simple for Chicago. If the Blackhawks win, they’re in the playoffs. A win of any kind be it in regulation, overtime, or a shootout the Blackhawks will end up fifth after navigating through all the tiebreakers. That would mean they’d face Anaheim in the first round as the Ducks have locked down home ice in the first round.

If Chicago loses in overtime or the shootout, they’ll have to sweat out tonight’s Dallas-Minnesota game as a Stars win would put them in the playoffs over them. If Chicago gets the loser point and makes the playoffs, they’d end up seventh in the West and face San Jose in the playoffs. If Chicago loses in regulation and Dallas loses, then Chicago slots in at the eighth seed.

Detroit is already locked in as the three seed in the West. If Detroit wins, they’ll draw Phoenix in the first round, if they lose they’ll have to face Nashville. Neither of those matchups look to be all that appealing to the Red Wings.

NHL Extra

If you’d like to ask James and I questions and get our thoughts on today’s game, you can join us for NHL Extra online and follow along with the action that way. To join us for NHL Extra click here. We’ll be kicking things off at 12:30 p.m.

Draisaitl’s growth raises questions for Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 29:  Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers faces off against Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 29, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

It’s easy to forget about Leon Draisaitl.

Mostly because he’s not Connor McDavid, and that’s who everyone thinks of when they think of the present-day Edmonton Oilers.

They also think about the other first overall draft picks: Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, only the latter of whom is still with the team.

But back to Draisaitl — imagine if (insert your favorite team) had a 21-year-old forward with 11 goals and 11 assists in 28 games. You’d be pretty excited about that guy, right?

That’s the season Draisaitl’s currently enjoying. The third overall draft pick in 2014 (yeah, it’s about time the Oilers started to win), he’s scored four goals in his last four games — and no, he doesn’t always get to play with McDavid.

But the two youngsters have looked good together on special teams, and there have been times when coach Todd McLellan has decided to load up the top line.

“Leon has no trouble playing the wing. He’s done it before,” McLellan said, per the Edmonton Journal. “Sometimes you have a little security there too because Connor and Leon both understand how to play low in the D-zone and the first guy back can assume that position. You also have two centers who can take face-offs as long as you’re not exposed on other lines.”

Long term, the Oilers would probably like Draisaitl to center his own line. Where he ends up may depend on what they do with Nugent-Hopkins, the 23-year-old center who heard his name plenty in trade rumors as the Oilers tried to shore up their blue line over the summer.

Though scoring isn’t a huge problem for the Oilers, they could still use an offensive defenseman to help the power play. So far this season, they’ve been making do with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, but adding a real specialist could take their power play from good to great.

The Oilers may also need to shed some salary at some point. It’s nothing urgent right now, but Draisaitl is a pending restricted free agent and McDavid’s entry-level deal ends after the 2017-18 season. You can imagine what the captain’s second contract might look like.

Remember that Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli has never shied away from making trades, and that June’s expansion draft could be preceded by a number of deals.

Yes, Chiarelli would have to think long and hard about trading an all-situations player like Nugent-Hopkins, but depending on the return, it might be something he’d consider.

Related: With McDavid and RNH, where does Draisaitl fit for Oilers?

Panthers happy to be home after what ‘felt like a one month trip’

Gerard Gallant, former Florida Panthers head coach, gets into a cab after being relieved of his duties following an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
AP
Leave a comment

When the Panthers headed out on the road 12 days ago, they’d won three of their last four games and Gerard Gallant was the head coach.

How things change.

Gallant was fired, quite infamously, after the first of six away games (a 3-2 loss in Carolina). The club proceeded to lose four of its next five, but did a decent job of securing some points with a shootout defeat in Chicago, and back-to-back OT losses in Boston and Philadelphia.

Now, the Panthers are just glad to be back home.

“It felt like a one month trip,” Jussi Jokinen said, per the Miami Herald. “I think it will be nice to go home and spend [Wednesday] with the family, and get our thoughts away from hockey. That will probably be good for all of us.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean things are going to get easier.

The Panthers host the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins tonight, a team that’s won three straight and absolutely torched the scoreboard while doing so. Pittsburgh scored a whopping 19 goals over that span and, quite incredibly, only one came on the power play.

So there’s that to deal with. What’s more, Florida will be without Jonathan Marchessault tonight, while Keith Yandle is a game-time decision.

After the Pens game, Florida hosts Vancouver before heading back onto the road for a three-game swing through Minnesota, Winnipeg and Colorado.

Wings get good news on injury front as Athanasiou, Marchenko ready to return

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 15:  Andreas Athanasiou #72 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Red Wings 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

Detroit has won two straight, and could have two key players back for Friday’s home date with Columbus.

Speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou, who’s missed the last 12 games with a knee injury, has been activated from IR and is ready to go for tomorrow, while d-man Alexey Marchenko — out since Nov. 20 with a shoulder ailment — will either return to face the Jackets, or on Sunday against Philly.

It’s great news for a Red Wings team that’s been hit hard with injuries. Darren Helm, Tyler Bertuzzi, Brendan Smith and Justin Abdelkader were already missing due to various ailments.

Athanasiou, one of the fastest players on the team, was off to a pretty solid start before getting knocked by Canucks d-man Nikita Tryamkin on Nov. 10. He had four goals and five points in 13 games, and was averaging 12:06 TOI per night.

Marchenko, one of the club’s key penalty killers, was averaging over 18 minutes per game prior to getting hurt.

Both returns come at a key time for the club. Detroit currently sits four points back of Philly for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference — with a game in hand — and now has a big home stretch coming up. The Wings will play their next five at Joe Louis against the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Coyotes, Kings and Ducks.

Not getting any easier: Slumping Avs take on the Bruins in Boston

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Head Coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche (C) looks on from the bench during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Losers of six straight, five of them in regulation, the Colorado Avalanche will be in tough again tonight.

The Avs will be missing captain Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Erik Johnson when they take on the Bruins in Boston. Landeskog (lower body) is getting closer to a return, but he’s not ready yet. Johnson (broken leg) is going to be out a while longer.

Meanwhile, the Avs’ season has been slipping away. They’re already 10 points back of a wild-card spot, and it’ll be hard to make up ground against a Boston team that’s gone six straight without losing in regulation.

The Bruins fought back from a 3-0 deficit last night in Washington, where the Capitals eventually won, 4-3, in overtime.

The Avs, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-3 loss in Nashville. They played the Preds close, and had a strong push late, but ultimately couldn’t beat Pekka Rinne on any of their 13 third-period shots.

“For me, that was the hardest we played — that was the best game we played in a couple weeks,” coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “We had some chances to square that game up.”

Bednar, of course, was a late replacement for Patrick Roy, who abruptly resigned in August. The Avs started the season with three wins in their first four, but have gone 6-13-1 since, at times admitting they’ve been “awful.” 

     Read more: Deadline target? Iginla will ‘cross that bridge when it comes’

The Avs play Saturday in Montreal then finish their road trip Sunday in Toronto. For Colorado’s sake, at least those two opponents have their own issues. The Canadiens are suddenly down two centers, while the young Maple Leafs are still learning how to win.

Tonight at TD Garden, the Bruins will be significant favorites, even though they played last night on the road. Boston (15-10-2) has one of the best lines in all of hockey with Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

That’s the challenge facing the Avs, who better figure it out soon; otherwise, they’ll need a Christmas miracle to get back into the playoff race.