Blackhawks-Blue Jackets Preview
Mired in their first losing streak this season and struggling on special teams, the Blackhawks try to end those woes Thursday night by adding to their recent mastery of the NHL's worst club.
Chicago (8-4-3) hasn't been effective on the power play this season, but had been picking up the slack with one of the strongest penalty-kill units in the league.
That group, however, has faltered in a major way during the team's 0-2-1 skid, allowing seven goals in nine chances - including five during a 6-2 loss to Vancouver on Sunday.
The Blackhawks had denied 34 of 37 opportunities over their first 12 games.
Chicago's power play is also 1 for 30 over the past eight contests and went 0 for 4 during a 3-0 loss in St. Louis on Tuesday.
"The problem is we're making the number out to be a big deal," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Right now who cares about the stat? We know we've got to be better, so we've got to keep working on it."
The Blackhawks didn't need a power-play goal - they went 0 for 5 - during a 5-2 victory over Columbus (2-11-1) on Oct. 29. Instead, they used Viktor Stalberg's pair of third-period tallies for their fourth victory in five matchups.
Chicago has also won three in a row at Nationwide Arena and will face a team that might still be stinging from one of the worst defensive performances in franchise history.
The Blue Jackets, though, will have had four days off since Saturday's 9-2 loss in Philadelphia.
"We're trying to make a big step," coach Scott Arniel said after practice Wednesday. "Last week was as low as we could go, but the past few days we were able to really work on things."
During that break, Columbus also acquired center Mark Letestu from Pittsburgh for a fourth-round draft pick. Letestu had one assist in 11 games with the Penguins this season, but Arniel said he thinks a player who had 27 points in 64 games in 2010-11 might thrive in a new location.
"He's a capable guy that's been playing behind some considerable talent in Pittsburgh," the coach said. "He's a guy that's played in a good organization that's done things the right way. We're really excited to get him."
Columbus might have even more help at center with All-Star Jeff Carter expected to return soon from a fractured right foot. That, however, will likely come this weekend instead of Thursday as previously hoped, Arniel said.
Carter had two goals and an assist in his previous matchup against Chicago on Jan. 23 with Philadelphia, while former Flyers teammate Patrick Sharp has experienced more sustained success versus the Blue Jackets.
Sharp has 13 goals and eight assists over the last 15 matchups, and four goals and five assists during a six-game point streak in Columbus.
Patrick Kane has three goals and six assists during a five-game streak at Nationwide, where the Blackhawks are 7-1-1 in their last nine visits.