NHL Second Half Face-Off: Chicago Blackhawks at Vancouver …

Expect a good, physical scrap between heated rivals as the Vancouver Canucks host the Chicago Blackhawks.

After another fun and exciting NHL All-Star weekend, we return to NHL action with a fantastic showdown between perennial Western Conference powers, as the Vancouver Canucks (30-15-4, 64 pts) host the visiting Chicago Blackhawks (29-15-6, 64 pts) at Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver, B.C.

While Chicago will look to start off the closing part of the NHL regular season with a victory to snap a pair of losses suffered before the break, they’ll get an immediate boost tonight from the return of their captain and leading goal scorer Jonathan Toews (27 goals, 23 assists), who has been out since suffering a wrist injury back on January 20th against the Florida Panthers. Missing a pair of games before the break as well as the All-Star game, Toews will no doubt have a big impact at least on the psyche of the ‘Hawks players, who may also receive a boost of confidence if Patrick Sharp (20 goals, 20 assists) can also get back on the ice (listed as questionable for return tonight). Adding to the interesting footnotes for the Blackhawks ahead of tonight’s game will be the addition of former Vancouver center Brendan Morrison, recently acquired from the Calgary Flames, who makes his first start with his new team in his hometown. Though there’s certain to be some mixed reception for the beloved former ‘Nucks player at Rogers Arena as Morrison joins the much-hated Chicago Blackhawks tonight, the 36 year olds’ presence on the ice in Vancouver once again should provide an added bit of excitement, and for Chicago, give them a nice piece of veteran presence on the second line in between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp to come. Though its yet to be seen how much ice time he’ll log this evening, expect his presence down the road to be a significant leadership boost for the Blackhawks, as his experience and work ethic comes without question.

These two teams have been bitter enemies in recent years due to their continuing dominance at the top of the Western Conference, and after splitting two meetings this season with Vancouver blasting Chicago 6-2 at the United Center and Chicago rolling through ‘Couver with a 5-1 win shortly thereafter, tonight’s showdown figures to be another high scoring affair with plenty of shots on goal. With Chicago and Vancouver ranked 3rd and 4th in total goals respectively this season, and both averaging the exact same 3.16 goals/game, it’s easy to see that both these sides have the firepower to score big in any contest, on any given night. However, one area in which Chicago has struggled more than Vancouver is their goals against average per game, as the Hawks have allowed 141 goals on the season behind the tandem of Corey Crawford (18-12-4, 2.86 goals against avg., .902 sv%) and Ray Emery (11-3-2, 2.57 GAA, .907 sv%), while Vancouver has only allowed 118 goals. Though Crawford struggled in the first meeting with Vancouver, allowing all 6 goals in the loss at home, he recovered well in Vancouver on November 16th giving up just 1 goal in a 5-1 victory. Getting the start tonight with an overall 2-1 record with a 2.67 GAA and .916 sv% in 3 games during his career against the Canucks, Crawford’s main objective for the evening is to stay sharp enough to avoid letting in a flood of goals in any one period, as in this match-up the team that puts up crooked numbers in a given period usually prevails with the win.

On the other side of the goaltender coin tonight, back-up Cory Schneider (10-5, 2.30 GAA, .927 sv %) will try to continue his outstanding form this season, filling in for Roberto Luongo who will continue to get rest after a very active close to the first part of the NHL campaign. Schneider truly should be considered as a worthy #1 goalie, as he’s ranked 6th in the NHL in save percentage, 11th in goals allowed per game, and is building on his stand-out year as a back-up last season (16-4-2, 2.23 GAA, .927 sv%). Tonight he’ll look for redemption against a Chicago team that torched him for 5 goals at Rogers Arena in the last match-up, and key for the Canucks is Schneider finding confidence and staying strong in front of what will certainly be a barrage of shots coming his way (Chicago is 5th in total shots on goal, averaging 31.86/game). No doubt a strong defensive effort led by Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamuis and Sami Salo, especially against the power play (Van. ranks 6th in penalty killing at %85.4), will help Schneider to avoid seeing too many shots, but with a quick, agile and persistent attack like Chicago has, inevitably Schneider will have to step-up this evening and hold the ‘Hawks under 3 goals in the game.

Key to a Vancouver win will be their production on the power play, which ranks tops in the league at 23 percent with 44 goals scored on the man advantage. It almost goes without saying that the Sedin Twins must be involved in the offensive production tonight, and getting points leader Henrik Sedin (52pts) on the board with either a goal or an assist or two is important to the Canucks’ scoring attack with the man advantage. With no points and a minus 1 rating in his last 4 games, Henrik is due for a good game, and tonight would be an excellent time for him to put up a few points for Vancouver. His brother Daniel has certainly been on a roll lately, scoring 3 goals and adding an assist in the last 5 games, so if the twin redheads can come together on a goal or two, especially on the power play, the Canucks will definitely be in a good position this evening.

For Chicago, Jonathan Toews has been solid against Vancouver (14 points in 18 career games), but he’s especially important to have back in the line-up as his presence will help take pressure off of points leader Marian Hossa (20 goals, 33 assists, 53 pts) who has 15 points in 23 career games against Vancouver, along with Patrick Kane who also has 14 points in 18 games against the Canucks. Getting these three stars active and moving the puck around well in the Canucks zone is essential for the ‘Hawks, as they’ll need to pepper Cory Schneider with plenty of shots as often as possible to eventually see a few goals go in. Chicago does have an edge with their speed, and they work well from behind the opposing net, so getting the puck in deep and forcing Schneider to shuffle back and forth across the goal could give the Hawks an edge in tonight’s match-up. Also very important for the Hawks is shutting down the Canucks power play. Chicago has been very poor on the penalty kill (28th in the NHL at 77.9 percent), so they’ll need to be much sharper against the best in the league with the man advantage, and also use the Canucks’ 13.94 penalty minutes per game to their advantage (they have a solid 23.1 percent scoring rate on the power play, on the road). The team that prevails on the power play and plays the better penalty kill in this match-up of scoring- and shooting-happy teams will likely find a W in their pocket at the night’s end.

Betting Lines for Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks at Sportsbetting Sportsbook

As we circle through some of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here on our website, the needle stops at the Sportsbetting Sportsbook for today’s top NHL contest, where you can always find the most competitive lines and easy access to the days’ top games for betting on sports. With Vancouver hitting home ice tonight, they get the nod as a -140 favorite on the money line, and expecting a tight game the Canucks will get -1.5 goals at +200 odds. As the visiting underdog, the Chicago Blackhawks get +120 odds to win on the money line, and have 1.5 goals to play with against the spread, though with lofty -240 odds. With both games this season between these two teams going north of tonight’s 5.5 goals on the over/under, this might be a good game to expect a tighter performance, as both sides will look to their defenses to limit the production of the opposition, and both goalies will be rested and prepared to put on a great performance against their bitter rivals.

Our Pick to Win:

Vancouver has an edge in tonight’s game as Chicago will be working Jonathan Toews back into the line-up, and with Patrick Sharp still questionable, the Hawks may be unable to put enough offensive pressure on the stingy Canucks defense at home. However, if Chicago can find similar success against Cory Schneider such as they did in the last meeting between the two teams, the Blackhawks might just squeak out a win on the road. Though both teams are certainly amongst the best in the league, Vancouver finds itself in a good position on home ice, with a healthy team and a great power play, that should be enough to get it past the Blackhawks in a tight match-up. I like the Canucks to pull out a win this evening, by a score of 3-1.

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