Blackhawks-Blue Jackets Preview
A win over the top team in the Eastern Conference helped the Chicago Blackhawks end a long losing streak that threatened to push them outside the top eight in the West.
To record back-to-back wins for the first time in nearly a month, the Blackhawks need to continue their season-long domination of the team with the NHL’s worst record.
Wrapping up its longest road trip of the season, Chicago goes for its fifth straight victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Saddled with a nine-game skid, the Blackhawks (30-21-7) scored all their goals in the first 9:38 and beat the New York Rangers 4-2 on Thursday.
Jonathan Toews, who had two assists through the first eight games of Chicago’s nine-game swing, opened the scoring on a penalty shot 65 seconds into the contest. Nick Leddy, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa added goals to back Corey Crawford, who made 20 saves.
“It was a great start and obviously a huge win for us. We haven’t had too many regular-season wins that felt as good as that,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Blackhawks have to feel good after outscoring the Blue Jackets 20-8 while winning all four matchups this season. Chicago won 6-3 in its only visit to Nationwide Arena on Nov. 10.
Viktor Stalberg has been the biggest reason for the Blackhawks’ success in the series. The third-year forward has scored seven of his 15 goals this season versus Columbus, posting his first career hat trick in a 5-2 win Jan. 10.
“Playing them, it seems you get a lot of chances,” Stalberg said after that contest. “The puck’s finding me out there.”
Chicago hasn’t won consecutive games since Jan. 18 and 20, and Toews said the team cannot relax against the Blue Jackets (17-34-6) despite scoring 21 goals while winning four straight in the Ohio capital.
“We have to work for it. We’re not just going to keep winning automatically now,” said Toews, who has three goals and three assists in his last four visits to Columbus.
In spite of their poor record, the Blue Jackets are playing some of their best hockey of the season. Columbus won for the fourth time in six games Tuesday, 2-1 over St. Louis.
Solid special teams play has helped Columbus during that stretch. The Blue Jackets have converted 29.6 percent (8 of 27) of their power-play chances while killing off 12 of 16 penalties.
“We’re doing a good job as far as where we want to be, and making the right decision as to where the puck needs to go,” interim coach Todd Richards told the team’s official website. “We’re maintaining possession of the puck, we’re not dumping it and trying to get it back which takes time and energy.
“A big thing is confidence, too – sometimes you don’t feel as confident because you haven’t had success. Players are starting to have success now, and I think there’s a confidence when guys go over the boards that good things are going to happen.”
That hasn’t been the case when Columbus has gone on the power play against Chicago this season, as the Blue Jackets are 2 for 17.
Grant Clitsome is the Blue Jackets’ leading goal scorer against the Blackhawks with two, as captain Rick Nash has fared poorly in the season series. Nash, who could be dealt before the Feb. 27 trading deadline, has only two assists despite taking a team-high 23 shots and is a minus-8 in the four games.
Columbus is 1-3-1 all-time at home against Chicago when Nash is held without a point.