Chicago was expected to tank this season for draft positioning, and to put it kindly: they’re living up to expectations. They enter tonight ranked 31st in goal scoring, and in their last 3 games, they’ve been shutout twice. In the only match that wasn’t a shutout in that stretch, they scored just once.
Tonight, they’ll be without one of their top 6 forwards, Andreas Athanasiou, who was just placed on the bereavement list yesterday. His absence steepens an already uphill battle vs. a Washington group that’s limited 7 of its last 10 opponents to 2 or fewer goals. They’ve now won 4 straight contests by a combined score of 16-6 and will look to secure their first 5-game win streak of the season tonight.
After a slow start (by Capitals standards), Washington’s offense has been increasingly consistent of late, even in tough matchups. Team defense has also tightened considerably, which corresponds with welcoming veteran blue liner John Carlson back from IR. Team Captain Alex Ovechkin is also sitting at 797 career goals, and his pursuit of the 800+ milestone has been a significant source of energy for the team in this recent stretch. Only 2 players in NHL history have hit that mark (Wayne Gretzky 894 and Gordie Howe 801) and when Ovechkin joins the club, it will be a monumental achievement.
Looking back to recent head-to-head matchups, the Blackhawks edged the Caps twice last season; however, 5 of their 8 goals scored were off the sticks of players no longer with the team — namely Alex Debrincat and Dominik Kubalik. Even still, both matchups went to Overtime, and one required a Shootout to settle it. Expected goals statistics clearly show the Capitals deserved to win both contests, but the team was burned by bad goaltending. I’m less concerned about that tonight, but it’s always a risk in this sport.