February 11 – Day 119 – Oduya and Sharp return to the United Center

All it took was a goal from Second Star of the Game Kevin Hayes at the 8:34 mark of the first period for the New York Rangers to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Blueshirts made sure to tack on two more goals just for good measure to win 3-0.

Hayes was assisted by Tanner Glass and Third Star Keith Yandle (his 25th helper of the season).  The 1-0 lead held through not only the first intermission, but also the second.

New York‘s first insurance goal wasn’t until the 4:21 mark of the third, scored by Dominic Moore, who was assisted by Derek Stepan (his 14th helper of the season).  Jesper Fast completed the evening’s scoring with only 1:31 remaining, scoring his eighth goal of the season on the empty net.

First Star Henrik Lundqvist earns the win after saving all 34 shots faced, while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the loss after saving only 19 of 21 (90.5%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 53-26-10, favoring the home squad by 36 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy Thursday, with nine games on tap.  The action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern with three games (Los Angeles at the New York Islanders, Buffalo at Philadelphia and Anaheim at Columbus), followed half an hour later by Colorado at Ottawa.  8 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of two games in the Central Division (Washington at Minnesota and Boston at Winnipeg), followed 30 minutes later by Dallas at Chicago.  Toronto at Edmonton drops the puck at 9 p.m. eastern, and this evening’s nightcap, Calgary at San Jose, starts at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Two of tomorrow’s games are divisional rivalries (Dallas at Chicago and Calgary at San Jose), and another set of two games are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Los Angeles at New York and Dallas at Chicago).

In addition to qualifying for both groups, the DallasChicago is also specials since it is first return of the return of Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp to the United Center since joining the Stars this off-season.

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This will be Dallas‘ seventh time featured in the Game of the Day series, and they own a 4-0-2 record in such games.  Their most recent was a 4-3 overtime loss in San Jose on January 16.  Chicago leads the league in times being featured, as this will be their 16th.  They own a 9-5-1 record in those games, with their most recent being a 2-0 victory over the Blues on January 24.

Johnny Oduya spent four seasons (219 games) with Chicago after being traded from Winnipeg at the 2012 deadline.  By far his best season scoring with the team was the 2013-’14 season where he scored 16 points (three goals and 13 assists) along with his 114 blocks (second-most of his Blackhawks career).

Patrick Sharp also left the Hawks for the Stars this season, although he did it by virtue of off-season trade.  During his 10 year, 679 game career in Chicago, he scored 511 points (239 goals and 272 assists), with his best season occurring in the 2013-’14 season, where he scored 34 goals (tied for second-most of his Hawks career) and 44 assists (most of his Hawks career) for 78 points.  That campaign also tied his career high of 27 blocks in a one season.

So far this season, Oduya has had one of his best seasons in years.  He already has 15 points to his credit, as well as 102 blocks.  Sharp has also had a slight resurgence, as his 16G-24A-40P line trails his entire last season by only three assists.

Their new squad, the 34-15-5 Dallas Stars, currently sit in second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference, trailing Chicago by three points.  They play the best offense in the league, and they’ve needed it since they give up the 11th- most.

Thanks in part to Tyler Seguin’s 207 attempts, the Stars have fired a whopping 1753 shots, of which 9.9% have found the back of the net for 176 goals, most in the league.  Much of that success has been a result of the fifth-best power play in the league, as the Stars have connected on 21.18% of attempts for 36 goals (led by Jamie Benn’s 12 extra-man tallies).  The offensive success on the power play has come at a price, as Dallas has given up nine short-handed goals, five more than the league average.

The defense has been a little less successful, as even though they’ve only allowed 1560 shots (thanks in part to Oduya’s 102 blocks) to reach 20-10-5 Antti Niemi and co., they’ve saved only 90.8% for 147 goals against, 11th-most in the league.  That position almost directly relates to their penalty kill, which also ranks 11th-worst.  They’ve killed 79.75% for 32 extra-man goals against, but that is slightly counteracted by Dallas‘ seven short-handed goals.

The Stars last played on Tuesday, a 4-3 overtime victory in Minnesota.  A win tonight not only expands their lead over St. Louis for second place in the division to six points, but it also draws the Stars within a point of the division and conference leading Blackhawks.

The 36-17-4 Chicago Blackhawks lead both the Central Division and the Western Conference by three points, and trail only the Washington Capitals by six points for the Presidents’ Trophy.  The Hawks are in their position for a reason, as they play a top-five offense paired with a top-10 D.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 198 shots, the Hawks have fired a whopping 1760 shots so far this season, of which 9% have found the back of the net for 159 goals (led by Kane’s 32 tallies), third-most in the league.  Part of the reason for Chicago‘s offensive success has been their efforts on the power play.  The Hawks‘ 20.23% success rate ranks ninth-best in the league, and has earned them 35 extra-man goals.

Unlike Dallas, Chicago hasn’t needed their offense to cover for the other end of the ice.  Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s team-leading 103 blocks, the Blackhawks have allowed 1732 shots to reach 31-13-2 Corey Crawford and co., of which they’ve saved 92.7% for only 130 goals against, sixth-fewest in the league.  Probably the worst aspect of Chicago‘s game has been their penalty kill, and even that ranks 11th-best in the league.  So far this season, the Hawks have killed 82.17% for 28 extra-man goals against.  When taking Chicago‘s offensive efforts on the kill into account, it gets a little better, as the Hawks have seven shorties to their credit.

Chicago‘s most recent game was Tuesday, a 2-0 loss to the Sharks on home ice.  A win tonight over the Stars expands Chicago‘s lead in the division and conference to five points, and has the potential to put them only four points back from Washington for the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Blackhawks and Stars have only played once this season, with the Stars winning 4-0 on home ice.  These teams will meet again in five days at the United Center.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (seven shutouts [leads the league], 31 wins [second-most in the league], .931 save percentage [fourth-best in the league] and 2.1 GAA [sixth-best in the league]), Kane (76 points [leads the league], 32 goals [leads the league], 44 assists [second-most in the league] and +22 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (52 points [tied for seventh-most in the league] and 34 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]) & Dallas‘ Benn (61 points [second-most in the league] and 28 goals [tied for third-most in the league]), John Klingberg (35 assists [tied for fifth-most in the league]) and Seguin (28 goals [tied for third-most in the league] and 58 points [fourth-most in the league]).

Given Dallas‘ defensive play so far this season, it is tough for me to pick against the Blackhawks.  I expect Chicago to avenge their loss from earlier this year.