By Alan Ferguson
Los Angeles (30-31-10) at Chicago (37-22-11), 3:00 p.m. EDT
CHICAGO (AP) -- The Chicago Blackhawks have earned a point in
consecutive games, but they still haven't figured out how to
break their worst slump of the season or end their struggles at
The Blackhawks will try to take advantage of the Los Angeles
Kings' road woes Sunday at the United Center to avoid a
season-worst fourth straight home defeat and snap a season-high
five-game losing streak.
A month ago, Chicago (37-22-11) was cruising toward its second
postseason berth in 11 seasons and first since 2001-02, but a
current 0-3-2 skid and 10 losses in its last 13 games have put
the team on shakier ground.
After holding a nine-point lead on fourth place in the West, the
Blackhawks have allowed Vancouver to catch up in the race for
home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Their
edge over eighth-place Nashville is down to eight points.
A porous defense has been the biggest culprit, allowing 32 goals
during a 1-5-2 stretch. Nikolai Khabibulin has given up 11 in
three starts since returning from a lower-body injury, including
four in the first two periods Friday night in a 5-4 shootout
loss to Edmonton.
Chicago's Martin Havlat tied the game with 12:37 left in
regulation, but Jonathan Toews missed on a penalty shot 5 1/2
minutes later and failed on his shootout attempt before Patrick
Kane also missed. Khabibulin couldn't stop Edmonton's two
attempts as the Blackhawks opened a five-game homestand by
matching a season high with their third straight loss at the
"We're having a hard time keeping the puck out of our net and
getting momentum in games," said coach Joel Quenneville, whose
Blackhawks lost 4-3 in overtime at Columbus two nights earlier.
"We've gotten the effort the last few games. It's a matter of
confidence. A win is what we're looking for."
Losing Patrick Sharp to a knee injury hasn't helped
Quenneville's offense, but the center, who had 23 goals before
his 16-game absence, has resumed practicing. Without Sharp, the
Blackhawks have averaged 2.69 goals over their last 13 contests
after scoring 3.35 per game during their first 57.
Chicago has failed to jump on opponents early as it has scored
the first goal once in the last eight games, but the Blackhawks
scored twice in the first 6:18 against the visiting Kings en
route to a 4-2 win on March 1. Los Angeles had won the previous
two meetings this season.
After going 14-2-4 in its first 20 home games, Chicago is 4-6-3
since Jan. 16. The Blackhawks, though, are 4-1-1 in the last six
meetings with Los Angeles at the United Center and are facing a
Kings team that has languished on the road of late.
Despite splitting the first two contests in a season-high
six-game road trip, Los Angeles (30-31-10) has dropped seven of
its last eight road games.
The Kings' playoff hopes have dimmed during a 1-3-1 overall
stretch, and a 4-1 loss Friday night in Pittsburgh put them
seven points out of eighth place in the West with 11 games left.
A flagging offense can take much of the blame as the Kings have
scored 10 times in their last five and managed only Michal
Handzus' third-period goal Friday.
"When you're down 4-0, you have to keep working at your game,
and that is really important when you're in that situation," Los
Angeles coach Terry Murray said. "We're a young club that has to
figure that out."
Chicago will be without left wing Ben Eager, who was suspended
for three games Saturday after delivering a hit to the head of
the Oilers' Liam Reddox. Eager wasn't penalized during the game
for the hit, but is considered a repeat offender under the terms
of the collective bargaining agreement.