GAME DAY: at Chicago
Jackets end four-game road trip in Windy City
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|The Chicago Blackhawks will be an angry team when they face off against the Blue Jackets tonight at United Center. The 2012 calendar year has not been friendly to the Blackhawks, who closed out 2011 with a thrilling 3-2 home ice win over the Detroit Red Wings and sat in the top spot of the Western Conference.
Since then, coach Joel Quenneville’s club has lost four straight games and its Central Division lead, falling to fifth overall in the conference standings. The surging St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings have overtaken the division lead from Chicago and now the Blackhawks are forced to get back on track, so not to risk losing more ground in the division hunt.
In the last meeting between these two teams, it was the Blackhawks who earned a 4-1 win at United Center on Dec. 26. Chicago got 37 saves in a solid performance by goaltender Corey Crawford and a pair of goals from Blue Jackets nemesis Viktor Stalberg for the second of four consecutive wins before the new year. Columbus carried the play in stretches during the course of that game but three second-period goals by the Blackhawks put them in a deficit they could not overcome.
While there is a sense of urgency on the Blackhawks side, there’s a similar feeling in the Blue Jackets locker room as well. Columbus plays its first game under interim head coach Todd Richards tonight after Scott Arniel was relieved of his coaching duties on Monday morning. Richards said he anticipates a spike in the team’s play initially and wants to see that level maintain itself as the season moves along. Taking the upcoming stretch one day at a time is another element he will stress to the players, and Richards wants them to only focus on tonight’s game.
The Blue Jackets have played well defensively against the Blackhawks’ top players this season and there will be one less of them in the lineup tonight. Patrick Sharp suffered an upper-body injury in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings on Sunday evening and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks of action.