The Vancouver Canucks are struggling. They have injuries to overcome, and they look nothing like the team that eliminated the Blackhawks from the playoffs in a seven-game series last season.
But the Hawks have had Sunday's game against them circled for a while. By no means will they ever look past the rival Canucks.
"There is always games you have marked on your calendar during the regular season," Jonathan Toews said after a team meeting at the United Center on Sunday. "You can't say that every game is the same because it's not. This is our first game since that Game 7 loss last spring. We'll be ready for it. Even in the regular season, the pace is always elevated between these two teams.
"I don't think it's changing yet. It seems like it builds every time we play Vancouver."
The Hawks will be without defenseman Duncan Keith for the third consecutive game as he continues to recover from a hand/finger injury suffered against the Nashville Predators Monday. Coach Joel Quenneville said his lineup will be "very comparable" to what he used during the successful Florida trip.
First-line pest Alex Burrows (back spasms) and defenseman Sami Salo (groin) will not play for the Canucks.
The ample amount of individual battles (and trash-talking) between the Hawks and the Canucks is what makes the rivalry great. Another one should be added to the mix once Daniel Carcillo and Maxim Lapierre run into one another.
Carcillo famously said that "Lapierre is on the top of my list" when asked about which Canucks he has problems with during his introductory press conference in the summer.
"I kind of have a thing with pretty much everybody who is not on my team" Lapierre said Sunday. "There is nothing I can say. It's going to be a fun game. It's going to be physical."
Toews and Dave Bolland both said all their new players -- Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Steve Montador, Sean O'Donnell and Sami Lepisto -- fully understand what it means to face the Canucks as a Hawk.
"They've seen how our games have gone in the past," Bolland said. "They know how it is when Vancouver comes to town. They sort of know what kind of game that is. It will be like a playoff game."
Of course, the new guys aren't immune from some barbs from the Canucks.
"I don't read The Hockey News. I don't even know who they brought in to tell you the truth," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "Carcillo, I heard that obviously. ... Get a reaction from me after the game. It's going to be an intense game regardless."