It’s a battle in the desert Saturday night with serious playoff implications on the line. The Chicago Blackhawks (24-21-6) trail the Arizona Coyotes (26-21-6) by just four points for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Now both teams will meet Saturday night at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
Here’s a preview of Saturday night’s matchup between the Blackhawks and Coyotes, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
This is the first game for the Blackhawks since the All-Star break, but they went into the break as winners in five of their last six games. Entering Saturday night, Chicago is 18th in the NHL with 3.00 goals per game on 31 shots. The Blackhawks’ power play has only scored 15.6 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in the league.
The Blackhawks have been aided by good goaltending, as they have allowed 3.08 goals, 16th in the league, on a league-high 35.2 shots allowed. Chicago’s penalty kill has done a solid job this season as well, ranking seventh with an 82.8 percent success rate.
So far, the second half has not treated the Coyotes well. With back-to-back losses this week, Arizona comes in with four straight losses and seven in its last eight. So far the team ranks 23rd with 2.74 goals on an 18th-ranked 31.0 shots per game. The power-play unit for the Coyotes is average, ranking 16th at 19.8 percent.
While shot suppression isn’t its specialty, Arizona has been strong defensively. The Coyotes are sixth in goals allowed with 2.68 despite ranking 21st in shots allowed with 32. The penalty kill is successful 81.8 percent of the time, good for 11th in the league, while they’re tied for the fewest minutes in the box per game at 6.6.
Who To Watch
Prior to the All-Star Game, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was in the midst of his best stretch of the year. Toews put together a six-game point streak in which he had four goals and nine assists. The captain is now up to 14 goals and 30 assists and hopes to keep it rolling Saturday night.
Along with Toews, watch out for Patrick Kane and Erik Gustafsson. Kane, Chicago’s lone All-Star representative, is currently riding an 11-game point streak and leads the team with 25 goals and 38 assists. Meanwhile, the young defenseman Gustafsson ended the first half with six points in three games, giving him 24 points on the season.
Since the break, Arizona’s hottest player is a former Blackhawk. Nick Schmaltz opened up the week with two assists against the Ducks, followed by a goal versus the Kings. The 23-year-old previously was in the midst of a seven-game point drought, so perhaps he has found his groove and will continue to build on his eight goals and 30 assists on the season.
Taylor Hall and Lawson Crouse will also be Coyotes to watch. The former Hart Trophy winner Hall finished off January with five goals and seven assists in 11 games, bringing his total to 13 goals and 28 assists on the season. Meanwhile, Crouse had a goal and assist against Anaheim, giving him 19 points on the season.
In net Saturday night for Chicago, you’ll likely see Robin Lehner. In his first year with the Blackhawks, Lehner is 15-8-4 with a 2.86 GAA and a .922 save percentage.
For Arizona, expect to see Antti Raanta man the net. Raanta is 9-11-2 with a 2.99 GAA and a .911 save percentage, but also has a shutout this season.
Odds and Pick
Even though the Blackhawks have been surging and the Coyotes have been reeling, oddsmakers like the home team Saturday night. Arizona is a solid -155 favorite to get its first win since the All-Star break.
Give me the Blackhawks to pull off the upset on the road. Arizona has been struggling to score, and the Blackhawks have actually played fairly well on the road this year with a 12-9-3 record.
Look for Kane, Toews and company to put the pressure on Raanta and for Lehner to hold it down on the other side. Give me the Blackhawks +120 to start their second half of the season with a win.