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Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks preview: Are the ‘Hawks good?

They are currently in a playoff spot, do they deserve it?

NHL: JAN 15 Blackhawks at Lightning Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks: GAME 21

Time: 8:00 pm ET

Location: United Center

Broadcast/Streaming: FS-SUN, ESPN+

Opponent SBNation Site: Second City Hockey

After the first two games of the season, two things looked pretty clear. The Tampa Bay Lightning offense was firing on all cylinders and the Chicago Blackhawks were in for a long season. The Lightning scored ten goals in those two games while only allowing three. It was a total defensive breakdown on Chicago’s part as they hung out both Malcolm Subban and Collin Dellia to dry with coverage breakdowns and turnovers.

Chicago went on to lose their next two games in Florida, starting the season 0-4 and allowing twenty goals during those four matches. Not a great start. Since then, though, they’ve won 12 of their last 19 games and stabilized their goaltending to a point. Offense hasn’t been a problem for them as they’ve scored 72 goals this season for a respectable 3.13 per game (12th in the league).

Patrick Kane (34 points) and Alex DeBrincat (25 points) are leading the way as expected. At 32-years-old Kane may be putting together his best season ever. If he were to play an 82-game season at the rate he is producing Kane would be looking at 121-point season (39 goals, 82 assists). He has 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in his last five games while averaging well over 20 minutes of ice time per game.

The Lightning shut him down in their first meeting, holding him to just one goal over the two games. In order to succeed again on the road trip, they will have to keep him off the scoreboard again. They will also have to contain the top power play in the league. The ‘Hawks have scored 22 goals with the extra skater and are successful 33% of the time. Impressive.

One major difference from the last time these two teams met will be in net for Chicago. Kevin Lankinen, a 25-year-old, undrafted Finnish goaltender has given the ‘Hawks a little stability in net. He’s picked up nine wins in fifteen starts while posting a .924 SV% and 2.55 GAA. Those might not be Vezina level numbers, but they are good enough to keep them in most games.

Subban bounced back from the rough opening night start and put together a streak of five appearances where he allowed three or fewer goals in each start. Detroit roughed him up a little in his last outing (five goals on thirty-two shots), but he’s been filling the role of back-up goaltender just fine.

So, are the ‘Hawks good? They have a 12-7-4 record with 28 points. That’s good enough for the fourth spot in the Central Division, two points behind Carolina and five ahead of Columbus. At this point they are comfortably in a playoff spot. Now they just have to hold onto it.

Looking a little deeper at their wins and things get murky. Seven of their wins are against Detroit and Dallas, the two teams at the bottom of the division. Only one of their wins came against a team that is currently above .500 (a 6-4 win over Carolina. They are 1-6 against teams that are above them in the standings.

As for their possession numbers, they are on the wrong side on most of them. They’ve only taken 47.03% of all shot attempts in their games, a number that ranks them 30th out of 31 teams. Their expected goal for percentage is 43.36% and they’ve surrendered four more goals than they’ve scored (44-40). And that’s against competition that hasn’t exactly been lighting the league on fire.

So are they good? Yes, sorta. They are good enough to beat teams worse than them, but aren’t quite ready to swim in the water with the big fish like the Lightning, Panthers, and Canes. Still, they’re not to be taken lightly and the Lightning will have to play better than they did on Tuesday against the Stars.

The Bolts are second in the league in goals per game at 3.55 while they are the only team currently allowing less than two goals per game (1.95). That’s a pretty impressive combination. A good portion of that second number can be attributed to the recent out of the world play by Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s riding a three-game shutout streak and has been, by far, the best goalie in the league through the first portion of the season.

Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos

Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman

Pat Maroon - Ross Colton - Mathieu Joseph

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Chicago Blackhawks Lines

Forwards

Alex DeBrincat - Pius Suter - Patrick Kane

Mattias Janmark - Carl Soderberg - Phillip Kurashev

Dominik Kubalik - David Kampf - Brandon Hagel

Matthew Highmore - Lucas Wallmark - Ryan Carpenter

Defense

Duncan Keith - Ian Mitchell

Calvin De Haan - Adam Boqvist

Nikita Zadorov - Connor Murphy

Goaltender

Kevin Lankinen

Malcolm Subban