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Wednesday Daily Puck: Hawks, Ducks Battle

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Around The Rink

Not since the final game of The Mighty Ducks has a tilt between teams named the Hawks and Ducks been so appealing.

Chicago continues their West Coast road trip on Wednesday with a rather important game against conference foe Anaheim. The Ducks have been sputtering a bit of late while Chicago reeled off an impressive win Tuesday against Los Angeles.

The utter contrast in the style of play between both the Ducks and the Blackhawks should make for entertaining hockey. Chicago is a team capable of dominating a game through possession and piling on goals when they choose while the Ducks tend to favor a more physical, grinding style. Both teams are some of the league’s best at even strength, each clocking in with 3 goals per game at 5v5 while Chicago leads the NHL in shots on goal per-game at 5v5.

It’s no secret that this game could be a Western Conference Final preview. The Blackhawks have the hotter goalie heading in with Corey Crawford and they’re a deeper team on the blue line. Both have elite top lines with a duo consisting of a scorer and playmaker who make life difficult for the opposition; Chicago seems to be a bit deeper with Patrick Kane behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa to the Andrew Cogliano behind Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the Ducks’ depth chart.

-Buffalo tackles Pittsburgh Wednesday as well. Ryan Miller has been performing quite well in Buffalo considering the situation in front of him. The Sabres are in the midst of a rebuild slated to take several more years to complete and Miller has long been rumored as a piece they’re willing to deal in order to obtain futures. They dealt Thomas Vanek earlier this season are likely to deal Matt Moulson (the player for whom Vanek was acquired) as well. How much longer Miller remains in Buffalo following the Olympic break will be the subject of much discussion. A strong tournament from Miller could see his stock soar, but you have to wonder if Miller will want to be a backup for a contending NHL team.

St. Louis has been mentioned as a destination for Miller, but Jaroslav Halak seems to have a rather firm grip on the Blues’ crease. A team like Washington seems a logical destination given their inconsistent goaltending from Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, but the problem may be more systematic and defensive than in DC's blue paint. Minnesota also makes sense for Miller considering the injuries that have affected Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding this year; the Wild have the organizational depth to offer something appealing to Buffalo. Despite the swirling rumors around Miller, the veteran netminder told the Buffalo News on Tuesday there has been little in the way of talks regarding his future with the organization.

The Miller situation is only going to intensify as the trade deadline nears. As for Sochi, Team USA coach Dan Bylsma won’t tip his hand about his starting netminder for the team’s opener against Slovakia.

Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid

Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury) at Buffalo Sabres (Ryan Miller), 7:30 PM

Chicago Blackhawks (Corey Crawford) at Anaheim Ducks (Jonas Hiller), 10:00 PM

Dallas Stars (Kari Lehtonen) at San Jose Sharks (Antti Niemi), 10:30 PM

Injury News For Teams Playing Wednesday

Pittsburgh Penguins
Tomas Vokoun, G - (pelvis) faced shots during Tuesday's practice.
Pascal Dupuis, RW - (knee) out for the year with a torn ACL.
Taylor Pyatt, LW - (lower body) will miss the Penguins' next two games.
Kris Letang, D - (illness) out Wednesday
Joe Vitale, C - (wrist) out since mid-January
Beau Bennett, RW - (wrist) skating on his own, to return after Olympics

Buffalo Sabres
Patrick Kaleta, RW - (knee) Out for season with torn ACL.
Tyler Myers, D - (knee) game-time decision for Wednesday.
Cody McCormick, C -(finger) out until at least after the Olympics
Matt Moulson, LW - (upper body) returning after Olympics

Chicago Blackhawks
Nikolai Khabibulin, G - (shoulder) remains out until late April-early May

Anaheim Ducks
Viktor Fasth, G - (lower body) Practiced fully Tuesday, likely back after Olympics.
Stefan Noesen, C -(knee) out for season with torn ACL
Sheldon Souray, D - (wrist) out for season, hadn't played all year.
Mark Fistric, D - (lower body) placed in IR Monday.
Nick Bonino, C - (upper body) placed on IR Monday, remains out

Dallas Stars
Stephane Robidas, D - (leg) skating on his own, likely back after Olympics

San Jose Sharks
Adam Burish, RW - (back) Medically cleared to return, should play Wednesday.
Logan Couture, C - (hand) returning after Olympic break.
Tyler Kennedy, LW - (undisclosed) likely to play Wednesday.
Jason Demers, D - (groin) feeling strong, self-declared available for Wednesday.
Tomas Hertl, C - (knee) starting rehab on his injured knee.
Raffi Torres, LW - out until after Olympic break.

Mikael Backlund, C, Calgary- Don’t look now, but the Flames put together a brief winning streak before Tuesday. Their potential-laden center, Mikael Backlund, took it upon himself to ensure the team scores at least two goals in each of the last four games prior to Tuesday’s loss, registering two points in each of those tilts. He topped this off on Saturday with two goals against Minnesota after slamming home two against Chicago last week. Backlund’s talent has never been called into question, but he’s producing at a rather high rate of late. It should be noted that he’s been remarkably streaky this season, as has been the case during his career. This recent four-game points streak was preceded by four pointless efforts which itself was ushered in by a three-game goal streak. Backlund will see scoring chances, just be aware of his penchant to disappear for several games at a time.

Mikael Granlund, C, Minnesota- Not to further confuse our readers, but a time zone to the east of Calgary, another Mikael is staking his claim as player to notice. Mikael Granlund has been one of the Wild’s top players the last week, riding a five-game point streak into Tuesday’s action with two goals and seven helpers over that span. Playing alongside Zach Parise is an enviable situation for the young center, one of the young building blocks for Minnesota along with Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle. Granlund’s value is tied to his position on the team’s top line and the health of Mikko Koivu, so this rate of production could be ephemeral. In the short run, Granlund is ticketed to remain on this line at least until the Olympic break, as Koivu is due back following Sochi; whether the latter plays for Finland is another issue.

Tyson Barrie, D, Colorado- Barrie has enjoyed the calendar changing from 2013 to 2014, as more than half of his season’s 19 points came in January. He’s started off February well too, with a point in each of the Avs’ first two games. His assist in Monday’s overtime victory against the Devils was a perfectly-placed slap pass to Pierre Parenteau for the tying goal in the game’s final minute, meaning he’s seeing valuable ice time in terms of the game situation. Barrie has played just 38 games this season due to injury and demotion, but he’s been giving the Avs a wealth of production the last month. Barrie had a five-game points streak, with two goals and six assists over that span, snapped in Tuesday’s loss to the Rangers. He’s seeing the most power-play time for Colorado defensemen in recent weeks as well, breaking 4:10 in each of the team’s last two games and logging 3:49 on January 30 against Minnesota.

Jonas Hiller, G, Anaheim- The Ducks are still one of the league’s top teams and face a Chicago squad who topped Anaheim’s slightly northern rival, Los Angeles, on Monday. Hiller, however, has not fared terribly well in his last five starts, registering a 1-4 record; the fact that his last start was a 1-0 loss and his last win was a shutout hide the fact that he’s allowed three goals in two of those five starts and four in one. He still figures to get the starts going forward for the Ducks, but play like this will make certain Frederik Andersen sees his share of turns in the OC crease.

P.K. Subban, D, Montreal-Considering Subban is the fourth player on Canada’s right defense depth chart, it might behoove the mercurial blue liner to pick up his rate of production. Since January 2, Subban has five points in 14 games and just two points in the last six (he added a secondary helper on an empty-netter Tuesday). On the Canadian roster, Subban is behind such scrubs as Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo; the defending Norris Trophy holder likely will see himself out of the lineup to start in Sochi. Subban’s numbers need to pick up, as he’s too good of a player to take out of your lineup. Six of his 38 points came over a two-game span on December 31 and January 2. Subban has not scored a goal since January 16 and is a minus-6 over that span.

New Places
Raphael Diaz, D, Vancouver- Having fallen out of favor in Montreal (playing just one game in January due to injury and being a healthy scratch), Swiss blueliner Raphael Diaz made his debut for the Canucks in Tuesday’s loss to Boston, scoring the Canucks’ lone goal, his first tally in 54 games.

After jumping out to a fast start last year, Diaz saw his season affected by injury, playing in just 23 games during the truncated campaign, ending with a goal and 13 assists. This year for the Habs, he’d managed just 11 assists, no goals and 41 shots in 46 games; numbers that certainly won’t garner much attention when you’re known as a defender whose skill set skews toward the offensive.

He did see power-play time with the Sedins and Ryan Kesler in Tuesday’s loss, but the Canucks power play is hardly the prime real estate it was the last several years. Combine that with the fact that the Canucks already have a shooter like Jason Garrison at the point, as well as the player formerly known as Alexander Edler, and opportunities to produce more on the West Coast might not be as plentiful as one believes. Kevin Bieksa is slated to return after the Olympic Break as well. There won’t be enough pucks to go around in Vancouver for Diaz to make an impact, not to mention assist heavy defensemen who don’t shoot are unlikely to make a large offensive contribution.

Monitor his ice time, but he was on the rink during important situations Tuesday, including late in the game while the Canucks had an empty net and on the team’s top power-play unit. It was an auspicious beginning in a Vancouver sweater for Diaz, just be cautious.

Recommended Pickup
Andrew Ladd, LW, Winnipeg
Either of the two Mikaels listed above should be available in most leagues, but it’s important not to discount veterans at this time of the year as well. It’s been no secret that Winnipeg has been playing markedly better hockey since the arrival of coach Paul Maurice in Manitoba, an arrival that has seen the team produce more offensively. Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd has seen an uptick in production as well since January 11. Despite having a modest three goals in the 12 games since then, Ladd has eight assists in that span, giving him 11 points total. He opened the scoring for Winnipeg in Tuesday’s win over Carolina. Ladd was a player owners could pencil in for 25 goals and 50-plus points at the end of their draft, but a slow start to the season led most to cut ties with the left winger. Ladd is a player who can sneakily provide secondary scoring in deeper leagues and is well worth a look.

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