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NHL: Vegas Golden Knights @ Chicago Blackhawks Preview

Two franchises going in different directions meet on Friday as the Vegas Golden Knights travel to United Center to take on the Chicago Blackhawks.

After missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and only qualifying once in the past five years, Blackhawks General Manager Kyle Davidson has made it abundantly clear that a re-build is on in Chicago.

Re-build on in Chicago

Three-time Stanley Cup winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was traded to the Minnesota Wild and productive forward Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning ahead of last season's trade deadline.

Then in the off-season top-scorer Alex DeBrincat was sent to the Ottawa Senators and former first-round pick Kirby Dach traded to Montreal Canadiens for draft picks.

Dylan Strome (now Washington Capitals) and Dominik Kubalik (now Detroit Red Wings) were allowed to leave via free agency, and each has thrived with their new team, all in attempt to make the Blackhawks as uncompetitive as possible and in with a chance of winning the 2023 draft lottery to land generational talent Connor Bedard.

With the remaining players and new coach Luke Richardson too proud to tank, the Blackhawks actually began the season quite well. But their lack of quality and depth has caught up with them and they sit bottom of the Central Division with a 7-16-4 record and their 18 points is second last in the overall standings.

Chicago are +350 to finish the season with the Worst Regular Season Record.

Arizona Coyotes (9-14-4 and 22 points) are +300 and the team currently at the bottom with a 7-20-3 record and 17 points, Anaheim Ducks, are +225.

Vegas on an upward trajectory

The Golden Knights missed the playoffs for the first time in their five-year history last season, in large part due to missing several key players for large stretches through injury.

With a new coach in Bruce Cassidy (formerly Boston Bruins) and far better health, the Golden Knights have quickly re-established themselves as serious contenders for the Stanley Cup, which they are +750 To Win Outright.

Vegas lead the Pacific Division with a 21-9-1 record and their 43 points is fourth in the overall standings.

They have scored 3.29 average goals per-game which ranks 13th in the NHL but perhaps more importantly, given their number-one goalie Robin Lehner has been ruled out for the season, is that their goals against per-game is a very healthy 2.74 (seventh).

Comfortable in net

Lehner's injury was a big story for the Golden Knights entering the season and whether rookie Logan Thompson would be able to handle the load after an impressive but small sample size showing of 19 games in 2021/22.

With a 13-7-0 record, .917 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average (GAA), the 25-year-old has eased concerns over his credentials.

He has been well supported, too, by 26-year-old Aidan Hill who was added in the off-season from the San Jose Sharks. Hill has an 8-2-1 record, .907 save percentage and 2.62 GAA.

On the contrary, the Blackhawks have had very little stability in net but that again has come very much by their own making.

Last year's main starter Kevin Lankinen was allowed to leave via free agency and instead, the Blackhawks took the much-maligned $3.8-millon per-year contract of Petr Mrazek off the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for future draft picks which they are collecting at some rate with the plan to re-build from.

As in Toronto, 30-year-old Mrazek has again struggled with injury and form in Chicago, playing just 10 games with a 2-6-1 record, .873 save percentage and 4.37 GAA.

Undrafted Swede Arvid Soderblom has ended up having more of the starts, posting a .906 save percentage and 3.18 GAA in 13 games.

Previous meeting

Thompson made 27 saves to shut-out the Blackhawks in the only previous meeting between the two teams this season at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas.

Paul Cotter scored the lone goal for Vegas in what was each team's second game of the season.

Chicago are 4-9-2 at home this season and Vegas an impressive 13-2-1 on the road.

The Blackhawks have won just once in the last ten games (1-8-1) while the Golden Knights are 5-5-0.

All signs point to a Vegas victory at -210, but Chicago do, at least for now, still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who led them to three Stanley Cups between 2009 and 2015.

Kane leads the team with 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) and Toews, also 34, is third with 15 (nine goals, six assists).

If the pair turn it on, Chicago will always have a chance, especially with a powerplay firing at 23.8% (11th in the league) against the Golden Knights' penalty-kill which is a lowly 24th at 73.4%.

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