This game coming up tomorrow night can be considered a possible preview of the Stanley Cup Finals this year. With both teams being the mammoth leaders in their respective conferences, this clash could be one to keep in mind when watching how the post-season shapes up.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals have been busy winning games and securing their choke hold on the lead and home ice advantage.
The Blackhawks have also been busy at the trade deadline, getting what seems like prepared for a great post-season run. They’ve acquired a variety of players as they bulk up for another Stanley Cup playoffs. Some of these new trades might even make their debuts to in front of the home crowd on Sunday.
Chicago though, might need all the help they can get right now, since they’ve been in a mini-slump. Against the league-best Washington Capitals and red-hot superstar Alex Ovechkin who just scored his 40th last night, the Blackhawks will have a lot to defend against.
Chicago’s general manager Stan Bowman made a flurry of trades starting this past Thursday when he re-acquired now ex-Winnipeg Jets captain, Andrew Ladd. The former Jet was a member of the Blackhawks’ 2010 Cup-winning team. He came along with with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison, traded for Marko Dano and two draft picks to the Peg.
Yesterday Bowman was at it again, adding Christian Ehrhoff from the Los Angeles Kings for another veteran defenseman in Rob Scuderi who’ll help secure their blueline. He then went on to pick up Tomas Fleischman and the much anticipated Dale Weise from the Montreal Canadiens in return for Philip Danault and a second-round pick in 2018.
“I really like the way this team looks right now. I’m excited to get on the ice and play,” Bowman said. “Sometimes the moves are there to help your team and I think this year we clearly had some pieces we thought would give us a better chance.”
Chicago as of now sits at 38-20-5, and will have its shiny new players available by Sunday afternoon. Weise has had to clear up an immigration issue first before he can play, and will reportedly join the team within the next seven days.
The Blackhawks are looking for a boost from their new acquisitions. Recently, they’ve lost five of seven games, and only totaled six goals in those defeats. A 3-1 setback to Nashville on Thursday night was their fourth loss in five home games since the All-Star break.
The Capitals on the other hand at 45-11-4 are flying and have won 10 of 12 games, beating Minnesota 3-2 on Friday night. Ovechkin has a third-period rally to tie the game with his league-leading 40th goal. Teammate Dmitry Orlov got the tiebreaking score with 5:04 left to go on the clock.
Ovechkin has 11 goals and four assists in his last 10 games and has jetisoned past Chicago’s Patrick Kane, who has 35 goals. Both superstars are players that set the tone for the team.
But Ovechkin might have the edge, as the five-time goal-scoring champion scored the final goal in a 4-1 win over Chicago on Oct. 15. It was Washington’s fourth straight victory in the series. In his last six games versus the Blackhawks, he has five goals and three assists.
“Obviously, they’re skilled guys and won the Stanley Cup last year. They’re an experienced team and it’s a huge test for us,” the Washington captain said to local media.
The Capitals though won’t be playing at full throttle, since their top scoring defenseman, John Carlson, won’t be on this trip after coach Barry Trotz announced Saturday that he’s out at least three weeks after re-aggravating a lower-body injury.
Dman Brooks Laich might play in his place if he can clear waivers. And there is a slight chance that Washington could get Jay Beagle back from an upper-body injury that’s kept him sidelined since Dec. 30.
“I think (the return) will come sometime this week. It’s up to the coaches,” Beagle said. “It’s getting better. It’s getting stronger every day. It’s close.”
The Caps also made a move before the deadline, they acquired Dman Mike Weber from Buffalo on Tuesday for a third-round pick in 2017. He went to his first practice with the Capitals on Saturday morning and looked to fit right in.
Ladd, who will probably play with Kane, on the left side of Chicago’s top line, had four goals in his final three games with Winnipeg and scored a goal in each of his two matches against the Caps this season. Look for him to make an impact.
Fleischmann funny enough, spent his first five-plus seasons with the Washington Capitals from 2005-10, before the trade, he actually scored against his former team Wednesday, which was just his third goal in 35 games.
Washington goalie Braden Holtby has a 1.67 goals-against average in winning his last three starts against the Blackhawks, so he will want to extend that record and shut the door on the top lines.
Chicago’s netminder, Corey Crawford has a 3.99 GAA in his last five starts due to the mini-slump after posting a 1.67 GAA in his first 15 games of 2016, so look for him to try to get back in form.
The Blackhawks could really use a win right now to get out of their little slump which has them looking deflated the past week. But an interesting stat, the home team in this series has also won six of the last seven games between these two teams, so Chicago might have the advantage. But we think the Caps are just to full of energy and offensive for this weary Blackhawks team to manage right now.
Our Pick: Caps over Blackhawks, 5-3