The Chicago Blackhawks (9-5-4) have surprised many, including themselves, en route to the top of the Central Division standings, but the Carolina Hurricanes (10-3-1) are hot on their heels. Just one point separates them in the standings.
They’ll square off Friday night with a chance to jockey for the top spot. The Hurricanes won the first meeting of the year in a shootout, but Chicago responded with a 6-4 win the second time around.
Carolina is a strong home favorite at (-190) while the Blackhawks are underdogs at (+163). The Canes are coming off a loss to the Florida Panthers but won three straight before that. Meanwhile, the Hawks have won six of their past seven, including four in overtime. Puck drop is at 7:00 P.M. Eastern.
Chicago Blackhawks Preview
Chicago’s impressive start has come in large part from the play of their rookies. Pius Suter (six goals, four assists) is tied for the points lead among rookie scorers, while Philipp Kurashev (five goals, four assists) is tailing close behind.
Goaltender Kevin Lankinen (7-2-3, 2.29 GAA, .931 save percentage, one shutout) leads all rookie netminders in wins, GAA, and save percentage. Nicolas Beaudin has been a strong contributor from the blue line with two goals and three assists.
Lankinen is the expected starter Friday.
As is tradition, Patrick Kane leads the team in scoring with seven goals and 16 assists. Alex DeBrincat’s nine goals lead the way, and most of those have come at even strength. Chicago’s power play is tied for the second-best league-wide at 32.7%.
On the injury front, Andrew Shaw is still day-to-day after suffering another concussion. Connor Murphy is also day-to-day with a hip injury.
Carolina Hurricanes Preview
The Hurricanes have been all over the board with injuries and illnesses this season. After seeing three games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, goaltender Petr Mrazek needed surgery on his right thumb. The good news is Mrazek is the only name still on the injury report. He is out indefinitely, though there is optimism for a March return.
Jordan Staal (seven goals, eight assists), Vincent Trocheck (seven goals, seven assists), Brock McGinn (seven goals, three assists), and Nino Niederreiter (seven goals, one assist) all lead the Hurricanes in scoring. They’ve done heavily lifting as depth scorers, but stars like Sebastian Aho (five goals, nine assists) and Andrei Svechnikov (six goals, eight assists) have certainly pulled their own weight.
James Reimer is the likely starter Friday. Reimer has a 7-1-0 record this season, but he needs to improve on his 3.10 GAA and .895 save percentage.
On to the Pick
Both teams are playing excellent hockey right now, and I think this game will come down to one goal. I’m taking the home team to come out on top Friday night, but because it should be close, consider putting a bet on the Blackhawks (+1.5) on the puck line.
The tipping point for me is Chicago’s team defense, which allows a league-most 33.8 shots against per game. Giving Carolina that many scoring opportunities is a recipe for failure. Take the Hurricanes to come out on top Friday night.
Spooky Express Free Pick: Carolina Hurricanes (-190)