Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad, right, controls the puck against Los Angeles Kings' Jake Muzzin during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. The Blackhawks won 3-1. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

NHL on NBCSN: Best offense faces top defense in Hawks vs Kings


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Chicago and Los Angeles faced each other in the 2013 Western Conference finals and both seem poised to make serious runs for the Stanley Cup again this season.

They proved that they have what it takes after the Kings won it all in 2012 and the Blackhawks followed suit in 2013, but it’s not their past accomplishments that make these teams intimidating.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Los Angeles is the hardest team in the league to score against, despite the fact that Jonathan Quick hasn’t played since Nov. 12 due to a groin injury. Rookie goalie Martin Jones has done a particularly great job in Quick’s absence with his 8-1-0 record, 1.31 GAA, and .953 save percentage in nine games. The team’s defense deserves a fair amount of credit too.

They’ll have to keep that up though, because while the Kings have the best defense in the league, the Blackhawks are leading the charge offensively. Forwards Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp have a combined 45 goals and 94 points in 41 contests this season, but Chicago has plenty of depth too as eight different players have recorded at least 20 points and six are already in double-digits in terms of goals.

Chicago also dominates with the man advantage and that might burn the Kings tonight as they’ve been one of the league’s least discipline teams this season.

Getting out of the gate running will also be important. Chicago is 16-0-2 this season when it’s leading through 20 minutes. That was the case in these squads’ first meeting on Dec. 15. The Blackhawks earned a 3-1 victory on the strength of a strong first period. At the same time, the Kings are nearly as impressive with their 13-1-2 record in games where they’re up going into the second frame.

Like the Kings, Chicago has been excelling despite the absence of their top goaltender. Corey Crawford (lower body) is progressing, but isn’t likely to be available tonight, so the Blackhawks will probably go with 24-year-old rookie Antti Raanta instead. He’s been solid, but is coming off of a rough 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

After that setback, Raanta is one of the bigger X-Factors, but in a contest between two deep teams led by stars, there’s any number of players that could potentially take charge of this game and steal the show. Only time will tell if this match is a playoff preview, but it is at the least a contest between top tiered teams.

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
AP Photo
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.