Chicago Blackhawks Weekly Preview: January 2, 2017

The Chicago Blackhawks will look to end a recent string of losses as they turn the calendar to the 2017 portion of their schedule.

The Blackhawks who enter the week at 23-11-5, will kick off the 2017 portion of their schedule with a little outdoor hockey with the rival St. Louis Blues in the 2017 NHL Winter Classic on Monday in St. Louis.

Lets take a look at the Blackhawks upcoming match-ups this week, and hear what the writers who cover the upcoming opponents have to say about their team’s bout with the Blackhawks.

Chicago Blackhawks (23-11-5) vs st. Louis Blues (19-13-5) – Monday 1/2/17 – Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

The Blackhawks will kick off their week when they head to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, to take on the Blues in the NHL’s annual outdoor game, the Winter Classic. Here is my take on the game, as well as the Blues angle, courtesy of Laura of St. Louis Game Time, the home of the Blues on the SB Nation Network.

Blackhawks Keys to Victory: Create shots on goal, the Hawks’ have taken two of the three contests with the Blues to date this season, in both of the two wins the Blackhawks tallied 30 or more shots on goal, in the loss to the Blues back in October the Blackhawks only managed 19 shots on goal.

The Hawks’ shouldn’t try to get too pretty, just get the puck on Jake Allen early and often, and the Blackhawks should be able to take advantage of Allen who has been either great or bad in the majority of his performances this season. Set the tempo early and force Allen into one of his bad games.

Blackhawks Player to Watch: Artemi Panarin – The Breadman has a pair of goals and three assists against the Blues this season, and is currently the Blackhawks leading scorer. Panarin will need to play a big role in setting the tone for the Blackhawks offense on Monday.

Game Prediction: The Blackhawks, who are no stranger to outdoor games at this point, will send the St. Louis fans home unhappy, as they will pick-up a close 3-2 victory over the Blues on Monday.

Blues Keys to Victory: 1. Active and involved defense – the Nashville game was good evidence of what can go wrong when they stop focusing. Shattenkirk’s expert pass to the opposing team is a small symptom of what appears to be plaguing the team, and it’s very uncharacteristic for this to happen under a Hitch-coached squad

2. Goaltending needs to be sharper. Allen has either looked good or rough, and not surprisingly, his stats ebb and flow with the whims of the defense. He should learn how to steal a game behind this year’s team.

3. Special teams – the Blues have one of the best penalty kills in the league (4th overall at 86%) and a decent enough power play (8th at 21.6%). They need to draw the penalties and play to their strengths.

Blues Player to Watch: Everyone automatically wants to say Vladimir Tarasenko is the guy, but I’ll go with Robby Fabbri here. He’s picking up his pace and he’s third on the team in scoring (11-12-23). He could be a little better defensively, but to be honest, that’s the entire team this year.

Game Prediction: I want the home team to win the Classic this year, obviously, but games between these two teams can be kind of unpredictable and I’m notorious for never being right, so take this with a grain of salt. I’ll go 3-2 Blues. I’m also predicting a night game, because the weather’s probably not going to clear up until the afternoon and they’ll need to fix the ice after the morning rain.

Chicago Blackhawks (23-11-5) vs Buffalo Sabres (13-15-8) – Thursday 1/5/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL

The Blackhawks  will head home to host the Sabres in the first of a three game, four night stretch between Thursday and Sunday. Here’s my preview of the game, as well as a Buffalo take on the match-up courtesy of Chris Ostrander of Two in the Box.

Blackhawks Keys to Victory: The only team in the NHL with a worse penalty kill than the Blackhawks, is the Buffalo Sabres, the Sabres also happen to be struggling mightily on offense this season, currently ranked 29th in scoring in the NHL.

The Blackhawks should look to keep the offensive pressure up, force penalties from the Sabres and capitalize on the power play. It should only take a couple goals to earn a victory over the Sabres with their bottom third offense matching up poorly against either of the Blackhawks goalies.

Blackhawks Player to Watch:  Ryan Hartman – Hartman has done an excellent job this season of playing with an edge, and instigating opposing players into penalties. In a game where getting on the power play could be the key to an easy victory, Hartman’s improved output when he is playing with an edge and getting under the opponents skin, could bode well for the Hawks.

Game Prediction: The Blackhawks will be on two nights of rest when they host the Sabres, and should be able to handle the first leg of their back-to-back relatively easily. Hawks’ win 3-1 over the Sabres.

Chicago Blackhawks (23-11-5) vs Carolina Hurricanes (16-13-7) – Friday 1/6/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL

The Blackhawks square-off against the Carolina Hurricanes on the second half of a back-to-back, looking to redeem their losing effort versus the Canes’ last week. Here’s my preview of the game, as well as a Hurricanes take on the match-up courtesy of Matt Karash of Canes & Coffee

Blackhawks Keys to Victory: The Blackhawks just couldn’t solve Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward in a loss to the Hurricanes last Friday evening, as Ward stopped 27 of the Hawks’ 29 shots on goal on the evening, including a flurry of shots near the end of the third period.

But the real problem for the Hawks’ on Friday was Scott Darling, who is usually staunch, allowed three goals against the Canes’ who are 20th in the NHL in scoring. It’s very possible that Darling gets another look at the Hurricanes on the tail end of a back-to-back, but either way the Hawks’ will have to have much better goaltending and a greater defensive performance in front of the net-minder.

Blackhawks Player to Watch: Vinnie HinostrozaHinostroza had a goal in the third period on Friday night versus the Canes’ and just missed on two other shots on goal. He looked very comfortable playing against the Hurricanes, look for him to follow up that performance just over a week later.

Game Prediction: The Blackhawks will put up a better showing and win 3-1 over the Hurricanes. It’s not easy to beat the Blackhawks at the United Center, it’s even harder to beat them twice in the span of a week, good teams like the Hawks’ just don’t make a habit of dropping multiple games to the same opponent very often.

Hurricanes Keys to Victory: For  the Hurricanes to run their winning streak against the Blackhawks to 4 games, the Canes must do 2 things. First, the Hurricanes must play fast, attack and generate offense to match Chicago’s fire power just like the win in Raleigh on December 30. In addition, the Hurricanes will need to be sound defensively and avoid the intermittent lapses that have plagued them in most of the team’s road losses.

Hurricanes Player to Watch: Making his first trip to Chicago, Blackhawks fans should keep an eye out for 19-year old rookie Sebastian Aho. Aho centered Laine and Puljujarvi on Finland’s WJC championship team last winter and is currently playing left wing on a line centered by former Blackhawk Teuvo Teravainen. The Aho/Teravainen/Stempniak line has recently been a driver for the Hurricanes’ offense.

Game Prediction: If the Hurricanes bring the same pace and attacking mentality as the home match up, I think the game is tight again. I will go with some combination of both optimistic and generous to the home team and award the Blackhawks a 4-3 win in overtime.

Chicago Blackhawks (23-11-5) vs Nashville Predators (16-14-6) – Sunday 1/8/17 – United Center, Chicago, IL

The Blackhawks cap off their week with their third game in four nights when they host their Central Division Rivals, the Nashville Predators on Sunday evening. Big thanks to SmashvilleProud for the Nashville take on the game!

Blackhawks Keys to Victory: The Hawks’ stole a victory from the Predators last week in Nashville, after trailing the Preds’ in the third period 2-1. Halfway through the third period, Jonathan Toews tied the game, and with just over five minutes to go, Patrick Kane broke the tie with a goal, to record his 700th point of his career.

Despite the Predators struggling so far this season, they always seem to ramp up the energy when they play the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks will be tired, and on the back end of a three game, in four nights stretch when they host the Predators. The key in this game will be coming out strong, and avoiding being lackluster. If the Hawks’ let their fatigue get the best of them and come out of the gates slow, the Predators will capitalize on it.

Blackhawks Player to Watch:  Patrick Kane – Kane continued to haunt the Predators again last week, and will have a solid chance at doing so again next weekend. Kane has recorded 21 goals and 24 assists in 51 career games against Nashville, he loves to play the Predators and should have another solid performance.

Game Prediction: The Blackhawks have had a major problem this season with coming out sluggish on the tail-end of tough parts of the schedule, and in a divisional game with the rival Predators, they won’t receive any forgiveness. I’m going with the Predators in this one, 4-3.

Predators Keys to Victory: The Preds’ have had some troubles this season with inconsistency, they’ll win 5-1, then lose 4-0. It’s been back and forth. If the Predators start out ahead they’ll usually finish on top, but if they fall behind in the beginning they have trouble coming back.

In order for a successful game we need strong goaltending from Pekka Rinne, who has been strong for the most part, but on the bench Saros has proved he is a reliable goaltender for when Pekka can’t fill the job.

Predators Player to Watch: Viktor Arvidsson without a doubt is the hardest working player on the team, he gives it his all each game, and has been rewarded. Also Forsberg has been hot recently and will hopefully continue his streak. With Subban being out Ryan Ellis has stepped up to take his spot with Roman Josi.

Game Prediction: I think the game like most Preds’, Hawks games will be hard fought, and it’ll come down to who finishes the third period strong again.

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