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Game Day Preview #65, Chicago Blackhawks @ Los Angeles Kings

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NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 1:00 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West, NHL Network
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Second City Hockey

If you’re counting down to see how many matinee games the Kings have left to endure this season, the answer is two, including this game. We are mercifully almost free from having to watch the Kings embarrass themselves by the light of day — of course, there are still plenty more opportunities to watch them embarrass themselves at night, given the way this season has gone.

This afternoon, they’ll get the opportunity to redeem themselves against the almost equally as bad Chicago Blackhawks, who recently had a seven-game winning streak and flirted with a playoff spot for about 45 minutes until they dropped a few and their Central division competitors started collecting wins again. As it is, the Blackhawks sit at the bottom of the Central, their already-dim hopes at the playoffs fading by the day.

But there’s something interesting happening with the Blackhawks, and it’s not just the return of Corey Crawford.

Their big-name players who needed to step up? They’re doing it. Captain Jonathan Toews has 66 points, his most since the 2014-15 season. After a slow start and more trade rumors than he’d probably like, Brandon Saad has found more consistency to his game; he’s already surpassed last year’s points total in 20 fewer games. Duncan Keith is certainly not the same player who seemed to play 60 minutes a night during the 2015 Cup run, but he’s at least looking better than last season.

The young players who are fighting to be part of the team’s next core? They’re doing it. Alex DeBrincat is making every other team in the league regret that they passed him over in the draft. He could easily surpass 40 goals this season. Erik Gustafsson, a high-risk, high-reward defenseman, is silencing doubters who questioned the fact that Stan Bowman re-signed him. Dylan Strome went from being an afterthought in Arizona to an exciting young player who’s exceeding all expectations, now that he’s been teamed up with his old OHL buddy DeBrincat.

Or, well, let’s leave it to a Hall of Famer to succinctly sum it up:

The Blackhawks may not be good. Their underlying statistics are still bad. Their defense is pretty clown shoes a whole lot of the time. Their goalies have to work harder than needed. Their recent play is absolutely an over-achievement given the collection of players that they have. But they’ve got a bunch of guys who are playing with pride and passion, even if the games mean nothing. They’re not taking nights off.

The Kings have a little bit of that. Sometimes. Every now and then. They did against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where they crawled back and forced overtime. They did against the Dallas Stars, where they fought and battled, even though they gave up an early lead. They’re inconsistent, mercurial, frustrating.

Do these guys have pride and passion? Of course they do.

Do they take nights off, too? Of course they do. Everyone does it, even the best athletes in the world cheat on a shift or two. The Kings just all happen to take the same nights off at the same exact time.

The Blackhawks are beatable. The Ducks — the actual honest to God Anaheim Ducks — almost did it the other night, until they allowed two goals within the last five minutes of play. They are a team you can easily slip through the defenses of.

You’ve just got to hope you can outscore them. In their last 20 games, only once have they scored less than three goals. The last time Chicago was limited to one goal? Their November 16 shoot-out loss to the Kings.

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