Senators close out West slate against Hawks
Friday, 03.02.2012 / 2:06 AM
BLACKHAWKS (34-24-7) at SENATORS (34-23-8)
TV: TSN, RDS2 (HD), CSN-Chicago
Chicago 5-5-0; Ottawa 7-2-1
This is the only meeting of the season between Chicago and Ottawa. The Blackhawks took their only meeting in 2010-11 with the Senators, a 3-2 shootout win on Jan. 7, 2011 at the United Center. It's also Ottawa's final matchup of the season against a Western Conference foe.
Are the Hawks on the cusp of another winning streak? The team has been streaky of late and Wednesday's comeback victory against Toronto might be the right launchpad for another hot stretch, but standing in Chicago's way is a date Friday night in Ottawa with what may be the hottest team in the NHL.
Many in the league consider Chicago's roster to be among the more talented, but consistency has not been the name of its game lately — or maybe it has, depending on how you look at it. The Blackhawks are having one of the streakiest stretches in recent memory, as their comeback win Wednesday night against Toronto snapped a three-game losing streak. That bumped up against a four-game winning streak, which itself snapped a monumental nine-game skid.
Chicago is hoping the formula holds true Friday when it visits Ottawa, because as the race for the playoffs begins to tighten, the Hawks are finding themselves surprisingly close to the fail-safe point. The Blackhawks are dangerously close to the ninth spot in the West, and with no games in hand on San Jose, Dallas, Colorado or Los Angeles, there is little to reassure the Hawks that the problem will work itself out organically. The Blackhawks need to start winning games consistently or they may be on the outside looking in quicker than they think.
Ottawa also knows how life can be in a streak. The Sens were slumping after the All-Star break, a stumble that put their postseason hopes in jeopardy, but lately the team is playing some of its best hockey of the season. Six wins in their last seven games have pulled the Senators comfortably into the top eight, but like the Hawks, they too have to worry about the schedule catching up with them. The Senators will only have an advantage in games played on Winnipeg as of Friday, while Washington, Toronto, New Jersey and Philadelphia will all have games in hand.
That said, the Sens have to feel good about themselves after a 1-0 blanking of the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday night, if for no other reason than that it may mean they have more depth in net than expected. Ottawa acquired goalie Ben Bishop last week as a reinforcement after starter Craig Anderson
suffered a hand injury during a freak accident at home, but prospect Robin Lehner
has been tremendous in his two starts since being called up, picking up two wins and stopping a total of 60 of the 62 shots he's faced.
Does any team in the league have a hotter pair of teammates than Erik Karlsson
and Jason Spezza
? Karlsson, the NHL's second star for February, has managed to tally 19 points over an eight-game scoring streak, while Spezza has done him two better, putting up 21 points over a 10-game streak … Marian Hossa has two goals and two assists in his last four games.
Chicago still is dealing with the notable absence of captain Jonathan Toews, who is expected to miss Friday's game and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Hawks may also be without defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is doubtful with an upper-body injury … The Senators are still missing Anderson, who has a lacerated finger.
The Central might be the deepest division in the NHL right now, but if their records are any indication, the teams in that grouping don't really like to travel much and Chicago is no exception. The Blackhawks have a 10-game disparity between their total number of wins at home and on the road, and the only two teams in the West that can match that are Detroit (10 games) and St. Louis (12). Those road troubles could be an obstacle for Chicago as it travels to Scotiabank Place.
The Blackhawks and Senators don't meet often and when they meet, the stakes are almost never as high as they are now. Plenty of the season remains and as a result, no one game will determine a team's fate just yet. But for two organizations in the thick of very crowded post-season races, the two points on the line will be huge for whoever takes home the win.