NHL's best teams square off as Hawks face Ducks

NHL's best teams square off as Hawks face Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are off to an unbelievable, jaw dropping start.  In their 28 games, they have 4 losses and 3 overtime / shootout losses.  That's unreal.  Unheard of...except of course this season.  Tonight, they'll face the more impressive, more draw dropping, record setting Chicago Blackhawks, who are 24-2-3.

The Ducks would be getting all the praise and attention if not for the Blackhawks incredible start, which is why we should fully expect an intense, playoff like game tonight.  Anaheim wants to make the statement that they are, indeed, the best team in hockey, despite trailing the Hawks by 5 points.

They have an argument.  They were one of the three teams to beat the Blackhawks in the shootout before their historic streak ended.

So which team is better?

FORWARDS:

The Hawks combination of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa (likely out tonight), and Patrick Sharp (injured) is probably the best in the league.  Yes, the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but it's less than impressive after that.  The Lightning feature Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Steven Stamkos.  That's formidable for sure, but Lecavalier and St. Louis are at the tail ends of their careers.

The Ducks are strong on top as well.  Corey Perry (who is serving the final game of his suspension tonight), Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan form a tough trio of power forwards.  Teemu Selanne isn't quite the Teemu Selanne we remember from our youth, but he's still a terrific weapon, especially on the power play.

Both teams boast scoring depth on their lower lines.  The Hawks 3rd line of Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, and Viktor Stalberg have a total of 45 points. For Anaheim, players like Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano, Daniel Winnik, and Kyle Palmieri have added offense, giving the Ducks strong scoring balance.

ADVANTAGE : Blackhawks

DEFENSE:

Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin is one of the best defensemen you've never heard of.  He's physical, can score, and can play shut down defense.  Sheldon Souray, who was at one point in his career considered "done", has been very steady.  He owns a powerful shot from the point, and can deliver big hits when he's motivated and playing at his highest level.  Bryan Allen and Toni Lydman add solid support, but they're hardly difference makers.

The Hawks may have the deepest d corps in the NHL.  The combo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the best pair in hockey when they're playing at their peaks.  They haven't reached those peaks so far this season, so let's just call them a top 3 pair.  I still don't think there's a tandem I'd rather have on the ice in crunch time.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is playing his best hockey since the 2010 Stanley Cup season.  He's settled down his play and has cleaned up his mistakes.  He plays a "quieter" game than he has over the last few seasons.  His partner, Johnny Oduya, has been absolutely terrific in his  regular season games with the Blackhawks.  The playoffs last year were a different story, but he was far from the only Hawk not playing up to par.

Nick Leddy, who turned 22 today, has thrived in a reduced role.  He's improving every single game.  Oduya played a huge role in his development last season, and his new partner, Michal Rozsival, has been a perfect complement this season.  What Rozsival lacks in speed and finesse, he makes up for in grit and experience.  He's rarely caught out of position and almost always makes the smart pass or read.

ADVANTAGE : Blackhawks

GOALTENDERS:

Anaheim's Viktor Fasth has emerged as a  top young goalie (11-1-1 2.00, .928). His partner, Jonas Hiller (10-2-3, 2.53, .911) has been stronger lately after a slow start.  They're one of the strongest tandems in the NHL.

But compare their numbers with Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.  Crawford boasts a 13-2-3 with a staggering 1.79 goals against, and a .929 save percentage.  Emery has been perfect on the season.  11-0-0 with a 2.16 goals against and .916 save percentage.  Amazing numbers when you consider that goaltending was considered the Hawks' biggest weakness even late in to the streak.

ADVANTAGE : Blackhawks

So that's 3 out of 3 for the Hawks.  Seems like a blowout, but they're so close in every category but defense.  I think this is a tough one for the Blackhawks tonight.  Marian Hossa didn't participate in the morning skate, so it looks like he'll miss the game with his upper body injury.  With the Ducks on home ice looking to show the world they deserve the same praise as the Hawks, they're going to bring everything they have, just like they did in the teams' first meeting.  It could be the game of the season.  Regardless of tonight's outcome, when the playoffs come, chances are these two teams will face off.  If they do, it will be epic.

Thanks for reading.  Follow me on Twitter @jayzawaski670.  I'll also be on the panel on tonight's Sports Talk Live on Comcast Sports Net.  Tune in at 5:30, and remember, the camera adds 150 lbs.

 

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