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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Blues, Blackhawks and Red Wings

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Carolina continues their road trip in the midwest before returning home.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Blues

Tuesday, 8:00 p.m at Enterprise Center

NHL: Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Blues will enter action on Tuesday night under .500 at 4-5-3, but also possessing an offense that just snapped a string of five consecutive games with four goals or more in their 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. Their newest acquisition, Ryan O’Reilly, has provided everything the Blues have wanted and more as he has produced a team-high 16 points in 12 games in his new threads. Slotted in as the second line Center, O’Reilly has provided needed scoring to the Blues lineup alongside veteran linemate David Perron and the younger Zachary Sanford.

Coupled with the dynamic first line that includes Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues are seeing greater depth in their scoring early this season. An undisclosed injury to Schenn could leave a decision for the Blues on what to do with O’Reilly at center. Do they leave him with his group, or move him to the first line to replace Schenn temporarily?

The biggest issue for the Blues has been keeping the puck out of their own net. Having yielded 47 goals in 12 games, the Blues have received a very disappointing performance in net from both incumbent Jake Allen as well as newcomer Chad Johnson. Combined, the two goalies have provided just a .879 save percentage and a robust 3.88 goals against average. While the Blues offense has been fine, no offense will be able to consistently overcome that kind of goaltending to consistently compete in the NHL. Moving forward, tightening up the defense and netminding will likely make the difference in the Blues hanging in or falling out of playoff contention in the very crowded Central Division.

In order for the Hurricanes to take care of business in St. Louis, they will have to re-create the offensive success that many other teams have enjoyed against the Blues. Can Carolina break the seal that seems to be placed on the net?

What to Watch For

  • Will Carolina make any changes to their league-worst power play unit? Many analysts have felt that an increased role for Dougie Hamilton could be in line. We shall see if Rod Brind’Amour is ready for change.
  • While it has been well publicized that the Canes lead the NHL in shots, the Blues are just 28th in the league in that category. With both teams playing in front of iffy net play, will the shot advantage help the Canes?

Chicago Blackhawks

Thursday, 8:30 p.m. at United Center

also, Monday November 12th, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

While the Chicago Blackhawks are no longer the class of the NHL’s Western Conference, there are still key pieces from those three Stanley Cup-winning teams that are at the forefront of there current squad. Off to a 6-6-3 start, the Hawks have received a league-leading 11 goals thus far from Patrick Kane, who is coming off a disappointing 27-goal campaign just a season ago. Combined with the continued solid play of captain Jonathan Toews and the youthful emergence of Alex DeBrincat, the Blackhawks continue to have a goal-scoring presence.

The Blackhawks have been made continually thinner across their roster as salary cap implications have continually pressed the Hawks to send off important performers. Along with the wealth of current Hurricanes that contributed to Blackhawks titles (Teuvo Teravainen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Scott Darling), the Hawks have lost players such as Artemi Panarin and Patrick Sharp as cap casualties along the way. If they stay healthy, the Blackhawks certainly hold out hope that their top-end talent can propel the team into contention in the Central Division, but reality would seem to dictate that there are simply too many teams who have caught up to and surpassed the Hawks for them to claw their way back into the playoffs this season.

In net, the Hawks have had to turn to long-time Hurricane Cam Ward, who is spending his first season outside of Raleigh with the Blackhawks. With two matchups in short order, perhaps the Canes will get their first-ever meeting against Ward, who spent 13 seasons in Carolina. The Blackhawks have seen Corey Crawford return from injury, and he will now presumably take on a full starters role. The Blackhawks will need Crawford to step up, along with better work from a blueline in transition, as the early results have the Hawks giving up the second-most goals on the season at 56 through 15 games.

If you are the Canes, the sweater across the ice cannot fool you as this week continues. If Carolina wants to be a legit playoff contender, teams like the Blackhawks must become wins more often than not in this highly competitive league.

What to Watch For

  • Will Carolina get their first ever matchup against the former Conn-Smythe winner Cam Ward? With Petr Mrazek out, we could see a Ward vs. Darling matchup sometime in the next week.
  • The defensive pairings for the Blackhawks continue to have an eclectic mix of aging cogs (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook), journeyman D-men (Brandon Manning, Jan Rutta), and extreme youth (Henri Jokiharju). Carolina must exploit this weakness in the Hawks roster to create solid, true scoring chances, not just an abundance of shots on net.

Detroit Red Wings

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Detroit Red Wings Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Red Wings are in the midst of their first true rebuild in multiple generations. While they are not devoid of talent (Dylan Larkin, Gustav Nyquist and Andreas Athanasiou to name a few), the core that carried the Wings to their most recent true glory has almost entirely moved on. With veteran netminder Jimmy Howard as one of the few remaining links to the Stanley Cup contending clubs of the past, Detroit will be moving forward looking for opportunities to improve their future and exploring trades as a true seller for the first time since the 1980’s.

In terms of opportunity, the Wings should have ample chances to move pieces to playoff contenders, as their roster is filled currently with veteran players who have extensive playoff experience. Frans Nielsen, Trevor Daley, Justin Abdelkader, Thomas Vanek, as well as longtime mainstays in Howard, and Niklas Kronwall are all over 30 and could possibly help a contender as real depth for a playoff run. The key to this season for the Wings will be maximizing the return on any and all of the possible trade pieces they possess.

After holding off the Wings in Detroit two weeks ago by a 2-1 score, the Canes will hope to again take advantage of their matchup versus what may turn out to be the worst team in the Eastern Conference. At home, these are certainly games that Carolina must be able to count on for two points to be considered a contender.

What to Watch For

  • As we have often discussed, the Canes lead the NHL in shots. Detroit is top-five in most shots allowed. Carolina will continue to fire the rubber, but will they be able to get enough shots past either Howard of Jonathan Bernier?
  • Athanasiou has exhibited some of the most breathtaking speed in the NHL. If he gets a chance to wind it up from center ice or beyond, enjoy it, and hope that Jaccob Slavin is the one chasing him, because no one else will likely have a chance on defense.