If the Blackhawks want to stretch their win streak to double digits, they'll have to get through two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this weekend in Washington and Montreal. The Capitals, Friday's opponent, sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the conference, and entered the season as one of the potential juggernauts in the East after winning the Presidents' Trophy in 2015-16.
Although the Caps have strong underlying numbers and sit in favorable position, they haven't looked quite as dominant as they were last year, due in large part to a faltering power play. While Washington had the league's fifth-ranked power play last season, they're clicking at 13.2 percent through 12 games this year, 24th in the league.
Overall, the Caps offense is currently sitting in the middle of the league, although they certainly have the firepower to change that in a hurry. And they have already started, to some extent: After averaging 2.33 goals per game in their first six games of the season, that number has improved to 3.17 over the next six, even counting Tuesday's shutout loss.
Chicago's 2-1 victory in St. Louis on Wednesday was more of the same: a spectacular outing by goaltender Corey Crawford, who allowed just one goal on 28 shots, a team effort to kill three minor penalties and timely goals from top forwards. Marian Hossa tallied his seventh goal of the season (and fourth in four games) in the second period, and Artemi Panarin added the overtime game-winner to secure both points. Meanwhile, the Capitals had a five-game win streak snapped on Tuesday, when they were shut out 3-0 by San Jose.
Panarin's game-winner capped off an unlikely Gordie Howe hat trick after the 25-year-old had picked up a helper on Hossa's goal as well as a fighting major for scrapping with veteran Scottie Upshall late in regulation; the game-winning goal came on his first shift after serving the major. With 15 points (6G, 9A) Panarin is one of three Blackhawks currently in the top 10 of the NHL in scoring, along with Patrick Kane (5G, 12A) and Artem Anisimov (8G, 9A).
Anisimov, who has centered Panarin for the majority of the season, left Wednesday's game with an upper-body injury, putting an end to his career-long 11-game point streak. Nick Schmaltz skated a few shifts with Panarin and Hossa in the third period, but Head Coach Joel Quenneville will need to figure out a temporary solution on the second line with Anisimov being listed as questionable for Friday's game.
Video: Joel Quenneville on Anisimov's health
THREE ON TOP
As expected, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin has been the engine for his team on the attacking end. After being held without a point in the first two games of the season, he's picked up points in seven of the last 10; he leads the team with seven goals and shares the club lead with 11 points. Ovechkin's greatest weapon is his powerful shot, and he's relied on center Nicklas Backstrom to set him for the better part of a decade. Backstrom naturally leads the team with eight helpers this season, while the third member of Washington's top line, T.J. Oshie, has six goals and an assist so far this year. Backstrom is also strong at the faceoff dot, ranking 15th in the league (58 percent).
Friday's tilt should feature a battle between two of the league's top netminders over the last few years. Crawford (106) and his Capitals counterpart, Braden Holtby (118), rank fifth and first respectively in wins since the 2013-14 season, and are among the top in their position across a host of statistical categories. Crawford's dominance in recent weeks has been well-documented, capped off by Second Star honors from the NHL. Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, has a .920 save percentage and 2.19 goals-against average while starting 10 of Washington's 12 games thus far. He has a 4-2-0 record against the Blackhawks in his career, while Crawford has a 3-3-1 lifetime mark against the Capitals.
CHI: Artem Anisimov (upper body, questionable), Tyler Motte (lower body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body)
PROBABLE FORWARD LINES
Schmaltz -- Toews -- Kane
Panarin -- Kruger -- Hossa
Desjardins -- Rasmussen -- Panik
Hartman -- Hinostroza -- Tootoo
Keith -- Campbell
Kempny -- Seabrook
Forsling -- Hjalmarsson