Wild aim to continue success against Blackhawks (Jan 15, 2017)
In recent years, opposing teams would hit the United Center ice looking to put forth their best effort in all facets of hockey when playing the powerful Chicago Blackhawks.
The roles may be reversed Sunday night.
Fresh off their most lopsided loss in more than five years, the Blackhawks will try to snap a lengthy losing streak to the Minnesota Wild as the top two teams in the Western Conference meet on Chicago's West Side for the first time this season.
After winning nine of 11 meetings, including postseason contests, versus the Wild in 2014 and 2015, the Blackhawks (27-13-5) were outscored 19-9 while dropping all five regular-season games last season.
Three of the defeats -- two in Chicago -- were each by one goal.
This season, the Blackhawks are tops in the NHL with a 17-4-4 mark at home, holding opponents to three goals or less 21 times, while Minnesota owns the West's best road record at 13-5-5 after topping the Dallas Stars 5-4 on Saturday.
"I think a lot of teams gear up to play against us, you know?" the Blackhawks' Brian Campbell recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Everybody wants to come (into Chicago) and play well."
Campbell and the remainder of the defense will face a stiff challenge. The Wild (27-9-5) are second in the league in scoring on the road with an average of 3.17 goals per game.
"It's always fun to play against those guys in that building. It's going to be a fun night and we'll definitely be ready to go," Minnesota's Jason Zucker said Saturday.
Though Chicago and Minnesota each have 59 points, the Wild have four games in hand. They'll also be looking to match a franchise record with points in 12 straight road games, originally set in 2015.
"We know that they're coming off a pretty good beating," Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Blackhawks. "They had their day off taken away and did battle drills all day, so ouch. We know what we're in for (Sunday). We better be ready."
After posting 15 goals while sweeping a four-game homestand, Chicago dropped a 6-0 decision on the road to the Washington Capitals on Friday. It marked the largest margin of defeat for the Blackhawks since a 9-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 19, 2011.
"You can't forget those games," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to let them sink in. You've got to learn from them. You've got to use it, get (angry) and use it the right way."
If Chicago is to get past Minnesota, it'll have to come at the expense of Devan Dubnyk, who will try to beat the Blackhawks for the eighth straight time.
During his winning streak, Dubnyk has limited Chicago to a total of 10 goals for a 1.41 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
Corey Crawford is expected to be in net for Chicago. Since defeating Minnesota on Jan. 11, 2015, Crawford is 0-4-0 with a 3.05 GAA and a .917 save percentage against the team.
Last season, Toews and Patrick Kane each scored a team-best two goals on Wild netminders. But one player conspicuously absent from the scoresheet was Artemi Panarin. The eventual Calder Trophy winner as the league's top rookie was limited to two assists and was a team-worst minus-7 in five games.
Panarin is second on the club with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists), and has four goals and five assists in his last nine home games.
On Saturday, the Blackhawks recalled rookie center Nick Schmaltz from Rockford of the American Hockey League. Schmaltz had a goal and three assists in 26 games before being reassigned on Dec. 4. According to the Chicago Tribune, Schmaltz was summoned after Artem Anisimov (illness) missed practice on Saturday.
It's not yet known is Anisimov will be available. Six of his team-high 18 goals have been game-winners.
Fifteen current members of the Wild recorded at least one point against the Blackhawks last season, led by Erik Haula (three goals, four assists) and Nino Niederreiter (four goals, three assists).
One player who was not on the team and enjoying a career resurgence in his first season with Minnesota is Eric Staal, the team's top scorer with 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists).
Staal needs one point to surpass his total in 83 games last season with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, and is red-hot with three game-winners among seven goals and seven assists in a 10-game points streak on the road. He also has six assists in his last six games versus Chicago.
Chicago and Minnesota will meet three more times this season.