MONTREAL -- By Chicago Blackhawks' standards, it's considered a slump.
The Blackhawks are in the midst of their worst six-game stretch of the season, arriving in Montreal for the first time since April 5, 2011 with a record of 2-1-3 over that stretch and scoring more than two goals once in their past five games. Their last game, a 3-2 loss against the New York Rangers at home Wednesday, snapped a streak of 10 straight games where the Blackhawks earned at least a point in the standings.
As a result, coach Joel Quenneville will juggle his lines, putting Bryan Bickell and Marcus Kruger on a line with scoring leader Patrick Kane, who ranks second in NHL scoring but has one assist in his past five games.
"To go the whole season with the line you set out with, it's just not going to happen," Kane said. "You've seen that every year in the past. It's good to switch it up sometimes, play with some new guys, get excited about who you're playing with. Sometimes it's good for the team, too. It sparks the team. I think everyone is happy in here to switch it up a little bit and try something different, especially since we haven't been playing as well of late."
Quenneville says that while the line juggling is a byproduct of the recent slide, it is also an attempt to help Bickell find his game. Since returning from a knee injury Dec. 17, Bickell has one goal, one assist and is a minus-5 in 10 games.
"I think that's part of it," Quenneville said. "[Kane]'s played with everyone this year, even over the course of games when he has his regular linemates it seems like he gets shifts with everyone. They started the season together and last year in the playoffs they had something going as well."
Slump or not, the Canadiens are prepared for a stiff test against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"I have an enormous amount of respect for the Blackhawks," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "They've won the Stanley Cup twice in the last four years. What I like about them is they play the right way. That's what we want to teach our team. Their young leaders play well at both ends of the ice.
"It's a challenge, I won't hide it. But we've been able to meet challenges over the course of the season against some of the top teams, Pittsburgh and Anaheim come to mind, but we've also had some difficult games against top teams. So this is a big challenge for our group."
The Canadiens will welcome right wing George Parros back to the lineup for the first time since he sustained his second concussion of the season Dec. 14. Defenseman Francis Bouillon will be scratched as Therrien will go with six on defense after dressing seven defensemen in Montreal's a 3-1 road loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.
Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens against the Blackhawks' Corey Crawford, a native of the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay who will play his second career game in his hometown. In his first game in Montreal on April 5, 2011, he allowed an overtime goal on the power play to P.K. Subban in a 2-1 loss.
"I've only played here once, but that was obviously a great night," Crawford said. "Being a kid from Montreal, growing up here watching the Canadiens, I was definitely a die-hard Habs fan. Then coming back and playing in this building was pretty weird, a lot of nerves. But it was pretty cool."
Here are the projected lineups for the Blackhawks and Canadiens:
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell – Marcus Kruger – Patrick Kane
Brandon Saad – Michal Handzus – Kris Versteeg
Brandon Bollig – Andrew Shaw – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy – Michael Kostka
Scratched: Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Rozsival.
Injured: Nikolai Khabibulin (rotator cuff)
Daniel Briere – Tomas Plekanec – Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Brendan Gallagher
Rene Bourque – Lars Eller – Michael Bournival
Travis Moen – Brandon Prust – George Parros
Josh Gorges – P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov – Alexei Emelin
Douglas Murray – Raphael Diaz
Scratched: Francis Bouillon
Injured: Alex Galchenyuk (hand), Ryan White (upper body), David Drewiske (shoulder)