1. HABS AND HAB NOTS
The Blackhawks spent less than three days in Canada, but it was a memorable trip, beginning with Head Coach Joel Quenneville's milestone win on Thursday in Montreal, incorporating a trip to donate a 2015 championship ring to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and ending with Patrick Kane recording his first career regular-season hat trick to lead Chicago to a 4-1 win over Toronto. The Blackhawks return home for Sunday's rematch with the Canadiens now sporting a 10-game win streak and their first division lead of the season. Not much has changed for Montreal in the three days since their 2-1 loss to Chicago, as they fell 4-3 to St. Louis in overtime on Saturday despite outshooting their hosts 49-22. The Habs were unable to take advantage of the Blues' lack of discipline, scoring on just one of seven power-plays, and have now dropped their last eight games against Western Conference foes.
2. PAT-TRICK DAY
Although the Blackhawks have demonstrated more balanced scoring over the last month, it was a vintage display of dominance from Kane that guided Chicago to their 10th straight win. With the hat trick and an assist against the Leafs, Friday marked the seventh time in 2015-16 that Kane recorded three or more points in a game—and out of those three- and four-point efforts, it was the fourth time this season that he contributed to every single Blackhawks goal in a single game. On a macro scale, the 27-year-old has scored or assisted on exactly 50 percent of Chicago's goals this season (67 points on 134 total tallies), by far the best ratio of offense contribution in the league. Kane now paces the NHL in goals (28), power-play tallies (18) and assists (39) while holding a double-digit lead in total points.
3. PK POWER
Going into Saturday's tilt, Montreal's defensemen had combined for just 10 goals this season. P.K. Subban's shot on the power play in the second period deflected off a St. Louis stick and into the net for number 11, his third of the campaign; the former Norris Trophy winner is now working on a four-game point streak (2G, 2A). Subban skated a game-high 29:53 and added seven shots on goal against the Blues—the majority of them with the man advantage—and now has 125 this season, second on the team. Although the pucks aren't going in as much as the Canadiens would like, their blue line has contributed plenty of assists, none more than Subban, who leads the team with 28 helpers. With his booming shot and ability to jump into the play, the Blackhawks will need to check him closely and prevent him from getting pucks off cleanly.
4. RETTY TO GO
As they've done so often this season, the Canadiens' top line of Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec keyed their offensive push on Saturday, combining for 22 of Montreal's 49 shots on goal and two of three tallies; Pacioretty and Plekanec each posted a goal and assist, while Gallagher added a helper. Montreal's captain has been one of the best shot generators in the league this season, ranking fourth with 176 SOG, and Saturday marked the 10th time this season that Pacioretty has accumulated at least 6 SOG in a single game, sharing second among NHL snipers. Montreal has struggled to find offense this season, scoring more than three goals in a game just once since Thanksgiving, and they'll undoubtedly look to their best trio to set the pace on Sunday in Chicago.
5. THE PUCK STOPS HERE
Defense and goaltending has been the foundation for the Blackhawks' surge up the standings. They've held opponents to two or fewer goals in seven of the 10 wins, and they've been especially successful against Eastern Conference opponents, averaging one goal against over six matchups during the streak. Corey Crawford was the Blackhawks' best player against the Habs in Montreal, stopping 39 of 40 shots, including all 29 he faced in the second and third periods, with the home team piling on the pressure. Crawford has posted a .944 over his seven-game win streak and now shares sixth in the league with a .929 SV% while leading the West with 25 wins.
THE FINAL WORD
Because of Saturday's overtime loss in an ill-tempered affair, the Canadiens may not arrive in the best of shape, and the Blackhawks would love nothing more than to replicate their strong start from Thursday's win in Montreal. Speed is the calling card for the Habs, who are always trying to find space behind their opponents, so defending against quick outlet passes and transition plays will be important for Chicago if they want to continue suppressing Montreal's dormant offense. A win would not only allow the Blackhawks to match their franchise-record win streak of 11 games, it would also create a bit more breathing room at the top of the Central Division, which has been slightly less airtight in recent weeks after Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville and Minnesota each experienced slumps.