Blackhawks-Blue Jackets Preview

A trip to face the Columbus Blue Jackets appears to be coming at

just the right time for the Chicago Blackhawks.

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.