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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks

The Canes finish off their road trip before returning home for a State Fair matinee.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Chicago Blackhawks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets

Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at Nationwide Arena

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

While the Carolina Hurricanes returned to Raleigh this week to get a few practices in, they will head to Columbus on Thursday to conclude their four-game road trip against the Blue Jackets. Columbus previously handed the Canes their first defeat on the season with a 3-2 win at PNC Arena that the Canes will now look to avenge.

For more depth on how the Blue Jackets were built following a number of significant offseason departures, check out the preview from a few weeks ago. As for the here and now, the Blue Jackets will enter Thursday’s action having completed three consecutive overtime games, with the last one being their only win on the group.

So far on the season, no player has been able to go on a points binge, as five Jackets are tied for the team lead in point with five in nine games. With the loss of talented forwards such as Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, it was certainly expected that a more balanced attack would be needed, however the Jackets would certainly hope to get more overall punch from their collective group going forward.

The biggest replacement story on the roster remains in net. Joonas Korpisalo has taken over the starting duties, and to this point he has put together fairly average results in seven starts. He has produced a .905 save percentage while facing 199 shots on the young season. The hope in Columbus is that a strong defensive core can limit the quality looks and that Korpisalo can blossom into a rugged starter that can play upwards of 55 games this season.

If the Canes are to snap their mini two-game losing streak, they will have to figure out a way to stay out of the penalty box. Leading the league in minor penalties is not a recipe for victory against any opponent in the NHL. But if they can stay disciplined and keep traffic in front of Korpisalo, they should have every opportunity for success against their division foe.

Chicago Blackhawks

Saturday, 1:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Washington Capitals at Chicago Blackhawks Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes will return home and play host to the Chicago Blackhawks for a rare early matinee at PNC Arena on Saturday. With the North Carolina State Fair in full swing right next door, the traffic and crowds should be plentiful as the Canes return home for their first game at PNC since October 12th.

The Blackhawks are fresh off blowing a lead in the waning minutes against the Vegas Golden Knights, followed by losing in a shootout in a 2-1 final on Tuesday. The Blackhawks have gotten off to a shaky start, sitting tied at the bottom of the Central Division standings with just six points in seven games.

While the acquisition of Vezina finalist Robin Lehner has appeared to pay off in the early going (.943 save percentage, 1.93 goals against in three starts), the goal scoring has been exceedingly difficult to come by. Sitting at 28th in the league currently with just 19 total goals, the Blackhawks are struggling to get going across the board, with only Patrick Kane (three goals, five assists) off to a good start.

While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are holdovers from their cup-winning squads and remain the anchors on defense, the addition of Olli Maatta and former Cane Calvin de Haan are intended to improve the defense in front of the newly acquired Lehner and the returning Corey Crawford as the Hawks slipped to 30th in defense last season in their second consecutive year without making the playoffs.

For Carolina, the use of their superior speed is essential in order to take advantage of their biggest edge on the Hawks. If they can promote a fast-paced five on five game, they will be in a good spot in their return home. Assuming Lehner is in net, the more shots you can pepper the big man with, the better. Rebounds can often times be the best way to score against him. On paper, this sort of matchup should play well towards the Canes strengths. We will see on Saturday if they can take advantage of it.