ISLANDERS (7-11-4) at BLACKHAWKS (14-8-3)
TV: CSN-CH (HD), MSG PLUS (HD)
LAST 10 : New York 3-5-2; Chicago 6-4-0
Season Series: Friday marks the first of two meetings in the next seven days between the Islanders and Blackhawks. Chicago won 5-0 on Jan. 9 at United Center in the only meeting with New York last season, snapping a six-game losing skid against the Isles.
Big Story: The Blackhawks hope to bounce back from a 4-1 home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday when they welcome the Islanders to the Windy City for an interconference matchup. New York has the lowest point total in the Eastern Conference, but is coming off its first two road wins of the season, on Saturday in New Jersey and Tuesday in Buffalo. The Isles seek their first three-game win streak since capturing three straight from Oct. 10-15.
Islanders: New York had lost 14 of 16 games heading into its current four-game road trip, but suddenly finds itself with two consecutive wins away from Nassau Coliseum. While the Isles' 30th-ranked offense has shown signs of improvement with five goals in the two victories, Al Montoya has been the key to the wins.
After Montoya's 24-save effort willed the Isles to their first road win of 2011-12 on Saturday against the Devils, he held the Sabres at bay during a crucial 5-on-3 situation late in the third period of Tuesday's 2-1 win.
"Al gave us a chance and we showed some desperation there," coach Jack Capuano said. "I think we've played with a little bit of an attitude that we maybe didn't have the first couple weeks of the season."
Stepping onto the ice at United Center will mean a little extra for Montoya, as the Chicago native is set to play an NHL game in his hometown for the first time.
Blackhawks: After going 3-3-0 on its 13-day, six-game "Circus Trip," Chicago returned to the United Center on Tuesday and struggled to find its rhythm in a lopsided loss to the Coyotes. The Blackhawks' offense was quiet all night, as the Coyotes scored four unanswered goals before Patrick Sharp finally got Chicago on the board with 42.9 seconds remaining in the game.
Chicago has scored two goals or less in five of its last six games, prompting Joel Quenneville to shuffle his lines at practice on Thursday. The most notable adjustment was Patrick Kane's switch back from center to right wing alongside Viktor Stalberg and Jonathan Toews.
"Kane at center has been a good option for us," Quenneville told ChicagoBlackhawks.com. "[Marcus] Kruger is playing well. We like two of Sharp, Kane, Hossa and Toews playing together. That gives us a different look and something we get to try."
Corey Crawford, who has dropped three of his last five decisions, is expected to start in goal.
Who's Hot: Montoya has won two of three starts for the Isles since returning from a hamstring injury, stopping 76 of 80 shots in that span. … Sharp has reeled off six goals and five assists in his last nine games for the Blackhawks.
Injury Report: Evgeni Nabokov (groin), Mark Eaton (sprained MCL) and Jay Pandolfo (broken foot) are listed on IR and will miss Friday's game for the Islanders. … Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland and Steve Montador missed Thursday's practice for maintenance, but are expected to be in the lineup for Chicago.
Stat Pack: The Blackhawks rank fifth in the NHL with 33.2 shots on goal per game, but had a season-low 25 shots on goal in Tuesday's home loss to Phoenix.
Puck Drop: Montoya, acquired from Phoenix last February when the Islanders were running through goaltenders in droves, appears to be emerging as the No. 1 goaltender after a three-goalie logjam that began in training camp.
"I knew the situation coming into camp, and it wasn't pretty," Montoya told Newsday. "But this is the NHL, it's the only place I want to be, so I've just tried to take full advantage when I'm out there. You see it with all the top goalies. The more you play, the less you think. You just let your body take over. I've been feeling real good in there and I think we've cleaned some things up as a team."