On Saturday night at the Bell Centre, the Habs will face the defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks.
The home team will look to shake off the after effects of a sub-par previous outing, having lost 3-1 against the Flyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Flyers took an insurmountable with first-period goals by Sean Couturier and Zac Rinaldo, while Michael Raffl added a goal of his own midway through the second frame. Tomas Plekanec was the only player to reply for the Habs when he scored a short-handed goal off a Brian Gionta feed. Peter Budaj made 24 saves and allowed more than two goals for only the third time this season.
The Blackhawks also allowed three goals in their previous game, a 3-2 home loss against the Rangers. Brad Richards and Mats Zuccarello put New York ahead 2-0 in the first, while Jonathan Toews and Brandon Bollig helped the Blackhawks knot the game in the second period. Carl Hagelin broke a 2-2 tie late in the third period on a play set up by Marc Staal and Richards. Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves on 37 shots, while Corey Crawford was beaten three times on 32 attempts.
Chicago arrives at the Bell Centre with a full lineup. None of the team’s regulars are injured except Brad Mills and Nikolai Khabibulin, who is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The Blackhawks’ trio of Kane, Sharp and Toews are all operating near a point-per-game pace through 46 games. Perennial All-Star defenseman Duncan Keith has 40 assists and logs a team-leading 24:24 per game. If that’s not enough for the Habs to worry about, the Hawks also field 35 year-old Marian Hossa, who, despite having a bit of an off-year in terms of shooting percentage, is still on pace for over 25 goals. All this offensive firepower has the side effect of relieving some of the pressure on the team’s netminders. Corey Crawford is 17-7-5 on the season, while rookie Antti Raanta is 11-1-3.
On Saturday, Montreal will have to do without Alex Galchenyuk, who is out six week with a broken hand, and Ryan White, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Carey Price is expected to start for the home team. He is 2-1 with a .954 save percentage against the Blackhawks lifetime.
Saturday’s game will be the first of two season meetings between the Habs and the Hawks. The teams’ last matchup dates back to December 2011, when the Canadiens fell 5-1 against the Blackhawks in Chicago. The Habs did come out on top in the last confrontation in Montreal, beating the Hawks 2-1 thanks to an overtime goal by P.K. Subban.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00PM E.S.T.
Piece of the puzzle
Number cruncher: Plekanec’s comparables
Fly by night