An Original Six matchup in Chicago tonight
Tonight at the United Center, the Blackhawks will host a classic Original Six matchup against the Montréal Canadiens. These teams have only met up once a year - and not even every season - over the past several years. Next season, fans will get to see them twice a season, which will be a great addition to the schedule.
In the meantime, despite a loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, the Blackhawks still sit atop the standings with 46 points. The struggling Canadiens are on the low side of the bubble for the playoffs watch (33 pts); they just fired their coach Jacques Martin last Saturday, with Randy Cunneyworth currently handling coaching duties for the team.
Tuesday morning at Johnny's West, the Blackhawks training facility in Chicago, the Habs had a practice clearly designed to put the team in the mind frame of the way the Blackhawks play: fast, hard, with plenty of high-speed shots on the fly. The team also worked on net presence and puck battling around the net. After the practice, it was announced that backup Peter Budaj would get his first start after Carey Price had played the last 9 games. The Habs are currently 13-14-7 with a road record of 8-7-1.
Although the Habs have historically been strong against the Hawks, including a 2-1 overtime win this past April in Montréal, the Blackhawks are 11-2-3 at home and 7-1-1 so far this month. Overall, Chicago has been playing well, especially when they put in a full 60 minutes of play.
Last night's game vs the Penguins was a perfect example - the Blackhawks took a lot of penalties in the first two periods, and definitely did not play their best game in the first 40; as a result, they were down 0-3 at the end of the second. In the third, however, it was a whole other hockey game as the Hawks dominated the Penguins for 20 minutes, doubling their SOG, scoring twice, and limiting Pittsburgh to just 4 SOG.
If the Blackhawks can guard against the mentality that tonight's game will result in "gimme points", and bring their full game for the full sixty, then we should see a strong game before Chicago heads into their 5-day holiday break.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
For the Habs: The second line of Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais might actually be the Canadiens top line, as they've combined for 69 points this season. Compare them to the Blackhawks, however, where Chicago's current top line players, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, combine for 71 points, and their second line pairing of Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane have 70 points - and those point totals don't even include whatever third player is slated to round out those lines on any given night.
For the Blackhawks: Corey Crawford is expected to get his first start since December 5th. Coach Quenneville has been riding the hot hand in backup Ray Emery, but it's time for Crawford to reclaim his net, and who better than facing off against the team from his native Montréal?
Brandon Pirri has been recalled from the Rockford IceHogs, and will make his second appearance for the Blackhawks this season. His other previous game this season was Chicago's season opener on October 7 in Dallas, where he registered 1 assist in 15:42 TOI. Pirri has led the IceHogs this season with 13 goals, 18 assists and a +6 in 28 games.
Viktor Stalberg clearly has been taking lessons from Jonathan Toews. Last night in Pittsburgh, Stalberg earned the third star of the night, 1 goal, 1 assist, and had 9 SOG. Although he only played 13:33/18 shifts, it seemed like something good was happening every time he took the ice.
Marian Hossa is on a 6-game point streak for Chicago.
WHERE TO WATCH:
Time: 6:30pm CST / 7:30pm EST
US - CSN Chicago
Canada - RDS & TSN
Radio - WGN 720 AM (phone app available)