The Chicago Blackhawks have had a rough go of it so far in the month of December. The NHL's standard-bearer is still trying to log a win this month after a tough week of action.
The shine is off the successful road trip that ended November. Coming off the road, Chicago has dropped three straight including a pair of games in the United Center.
The 'Hawks have a single point to show for three games this past week. Chicago dropped a 4-3 decision against Dallas on Tuesday and then went up to Minnesota and was victimized by a late comeback by the Wild. Following that 4-3 defeat, the Blackhawks played host to the Anaheim Ducks.
Chicago took that game into overtime but lost 3-2 in the shootout. The 'Hawks still pace the league with 45 points (a total that they share with the Ducks), but this past week's struggles come as a reminder that little was decided during a 6-1 run on the annual Circus Trip.
It's a long season, folks. There will inevitably be an ebb and flow to an 82-game schedule. For the moment, the Blackhawks are scuffling.
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Chicago went into the home of what is becoming a tough division rival in Minnesota and turned in a sloppy performance against its chief competition in the Western Conference. It happens.
The Blackhawks have their share of issues to try and work through. The penalty kill is just two-tenths of a percentage point from being in the league's basement. Sparkplug Andrew Shaw has missed the last two games, though he is expected to suit up for Sunday's game with the Florida Panthers.
Brandon Pirri is back in Rockford, while Jeremy Morin is back with the 'Hawks. Joakim Nordstrom was up and then sent back down over the last few days.
The visiting Panthers have won two straight games heading into the contest. They are fresh off a 2-1 win in Detroit on Saturday night. Scoring Florida's first goal was former 'Hawks wing Jimmy Hayes.
Hayes has goals in each of the last two games for the Panthers. He has three goals and an assist in 10 games since Hayes and Dylan Olsen went to Florida in the trade that brought back Kris Versteeg to Chicago.
Olsen, who assisted on Hayes' goal in Detroit, has a goal and three assists in six games. He had a goal and assist in the Panthers' 5-2 win over Winnipeg on Dec. 5 and was the second star of the contest.
It looks to be Corey Crawford in net on Sunday evening. He surrendered two goals in the final six minutes in the loss to the Wild in his last appearance.
Tim Thomas has started Florida's last 14 games after returning from a lower-body injury suffered late in Chicago's 3-2 shootout victory on Oct. 22. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the 'Hawks will face backup Scott Clemmensen, who is carrying a 3.08 goals-against average to go with a .879 save percentage.
high six-game goal drought. He did have a goal in the win in Florida this season. It would also be fun to see Versteeg, who has stepped up his game of late, burn his old team for a couple of goals on the way to a Chicago win.
Right now, coach Joel Quenneville probably doesn't care where the goals come from so long as the defensive effort is up to par. The Panthers are averaging just 2.20 goals per contest, but Tomas Fleischmann has found the net against Chicago in the past. He and former Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell are second to Scottie Upshall in scoring for the Panthers.
Florida has the hot hand coming in, but the 'Hawks are at home and should be rested and ready to battle a less talented team coming off a tough game in Detroit the night before. Chicago needs to end its current losing streak on Sunday, and the Panthers are a good opponent for that task.