One of the Western Conference finalists from a season ago has started to look the part. The other remains the worst team in the conference.
Anaheim will try to begin correcting that Monday night in Chicago, though the streaking Blackhawks might not be the ideal opponent to help the Ducks kickstart their attack.
The Blackhawks (5-3-0) have won the first three of a four-game homestand with three goals allowed, and the last two have come with their top defenseman sidelined. Duncan Keith, who underwent right knee surgery on Tuesday to repair a meniscal tear and is expected to miss four to six weeks, wasn’t a part of Saturday’s 1-0 home overtime win against Tampa Bay.
It was Chicago’s first shutout of the season, and also the first time it heard from Jonathan Toews with his first goal since facing the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.
"Nice to score a big one tonight," said Toews, who scored once in the final but had more success against the Ducks with five goals in the last four games of that series. "I don’t think the pace was quite Stanley Cup Final worthy, but we knew what we had to do against that team."
In the last three games, Chicago has faced an average of 20.7 shots, which has made things easy for Corey Crawford. The Chicago goaltender is off to another strong start with a 1.84 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He’s also posted 2.03 and .931 marks over an 8-3-0 span against Anaheim since the start of 2013-14, including the postseason.
"We’re playing strong defense, but we’re getting the puck back pretty quick, and then we’re going on offense," Crawford told the team’s official website. "I think that’s a key part of it too. Our (defensemen) are getting it back, skating and moving it quick to our forwards. When you have the puck, that’s going to be good defense."
Patrick Kane has been the main offensive beneficiary with two goals and three assists on the winning streak, and he has seven goals and five assists in his last nine against the Ducks.
Chicago scored 19 goals in the final four games of the conference finals, which is 13 more than the Ducks (1-5-1) have this season. After Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Minnesota, Anaheim has been shut out in four of seven games while being outscored 19-6.
"We’re trying to say all the right things. As a group we’re trying to encourage each other," said defenseman Cam Fowler, whose minus-8 rating is the worst on the team and among the worst in the league. "I’d be lying if I said it was easy to stay positive right now. This is a tough go that we have but we have to stay together through it. That’s the only way we can come out on the other side."
No player has more than two points, and Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler – the Ducks’ top three in points a season ago – have been limited to an assist each.
The team has scored once while losing the first two games of a five-game trip against a Central Division that’s taking form as the toughest in hockey, and coach Bruce Boudreau thinks with each game the compounding mental aspect makes it more difficult.
"I think it mounts. Human nature would dictate that it would," Boudreau said. "And when you have chances and you don’t score it’s even magnified more. You’re holding the stick so tight and you can’t make plays."
It’s been little fault of Frederik Andersen’s with Anaheim’s No. 1 goalie going 0-3-1 with a 1.86 GAA and .938 save percentage in five games. He’s 3-6-0 with a 2.92 GAA and .901 save percentage against the Blackhawks.