For the Chicago Blackhawks, the home stretch starts Monday in more ways than one.
Over the next month, the 'Hawks have 18 games to hold off Anaheim for the top spot in the NHL's Western Conference. With the trade deadline of April 3 just over a week away, the sprint is set to begin around the league.
That sprint gets underway with a bevy of home games for Chicago—11 of those last 18 games take place at the United Center. Over the next two weeks, the Blackhawks play host in six of their next eight.
It hasn't mattered where Chicago has dropped the puck this season. With that being said, while its 13-2-2 road mark complements an 11-1-1 home record, it sure cannot hurt the 'Hawks to close out the regular season at home.
The Blackhawks will try to sweep the season series with the defending NHL champion Los Angeles Kings Monday night. The Kings have been shut out in each of their last two games and have lost three straight road tilts.
Of course, Edmonton had been struggling offensively before coming to town and posting six goals in Chicago's lone regulation defeat on home ice so far this season.
The Blackhawks are still missing Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa from the lineup heading into the contest. Andrew Shaw missed Sunday's practice with the flu.
Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com is reporting that the top line of Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad will have a new linemate in the absence of Hossa, who is still hampered by an upper-body injury suffered against Colorado. That skater is Michael Frolik.
Frolik skated on the top line Sunday, and it appears that coach Joel Quenneville is going to give him at least some time in that role Monday. Frolik has been offensively challenged in his tenure in Chicago but has played well in many other facets of his game this season.
We can probably expect Frolik to skate hard and throw a lot of shots on goal, as has been the case this season. Perhaps the hope is that Toews and Saad will take advantage of some rebound opportunities.
The 'Hawks have used Viktor Stalberg on that top line on occasion. I wouldn't be surprised to see him skate a few shifts there Monday night as well. With two big scorers out of the lineup, Quenneville has to get creative to find a combination that can click against the Kings.