Blackhawks-Stars Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 23, 2013
With their offense leading the way in victories over top-tier competition, the Chicago Blackhawks are feeling pretty good about the way the season has started. The Dallas Stars haven't been quite as impressive, but they are also optimistic with the direction they're headed. The high-powered Blackhawks look to open with a fourth straight win Thursday night when they visit a Stars team trying to build on an encouraging victory. After emphatic wins over Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles and defending Pacific Division champion Phoenix, Chicago defeated the Central Division champs with a 3-2 victory over St. Louis in Tuesday's home opener. Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Viktor Stalberg all scored for the Blackhawks, who have opened with three wins for the first time since beginning 4-0-0 in 1972-73. "There are a lot of positive things that you could look at our game right now and say we're doing things well in certain areas,'' captain Jonathan Toews said. Their biggest strength is an offense that has totaled 14 goals. Eight players have already scored with Marian Hossa leading the way with four for Chicago, which is opening a stretch of playing eight of nine on the road. "I like the focus of our team right off the bat, the contributions we're getting from a lot of guys,'' coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's a positive start, we're happy, but let's keep trying to get better.'' After scoring 23 goals last season - his fewest since notching 21 in his 2007-08 Calder Trophy-winning season - Kane is off to a fast start. He has recorded at least one point in each game, tallying two goals and three assists. Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp are skating aside Kane on Chicago's second line and have combined for three goals and three assists. Bolland and Sharp had three goals apiece against Dallas last season. Corey Crawford, who has allowed two goals in each of his two starts, was between the pipes for all four games with the Stars in 2011-12, and went 2-2-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average. Like Chicago, Dallas (2-1-0) put together a strong offensive showing in its opener, beating the Coyotes 4-3, but has combined for just two goals since. Following a 1-0 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, the Stars bounced back with Tuesday's 2-1 win in Detroit. Michael Ryder scored in the first and third periods and Kari Lehtonen came within 3.4 seconds of a shutout. "As a team here, we're doing a lot of good things, and we're getting better as every day goes by," said Ryder, who got his first goals after leading the Stars with 35 a year ago. The offense kept the pressure on the Red Wings, registering 32 shots on Jimmy Howard, and Lehtonen did his part at the other end, finishing with 39 saves. He has stopped 76 of 80 shots in winning both of his starts. The Stars prevented Detroit, which had an NHL-best 31 home wins last season, from scoring on four power-play chances, and have killed 10 of their 12 penalties. The Blackhawks are 3 for 13 with the man advantage. "You want to start well," Lehtonen said. "I think we just need to keep going. Everybody believes in themselves a little bit more after coming here and getting a win." Lehtonen was in net for two games against the Blackhawks last season, and is 4-1-0 with a 1.97 GAA in five starts versus Chicago with Dallas.
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