BLACKHAWKS (20-8-1) at ISLANDERS (19-10-0)
TV: SN; WGN, MSG
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Chicago Blackhawks will be at full strength up front Saturday when they try for their ninth consecutive victory.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who left the Blackhawks’ 3-2 road victory against the Boston Bruins on Thursday in the second period after being checked face-first into the end boards, took part in the morning skate and will be in the lineup against the New York Islanders.
“I feel great,” said Toews, who has a history of concussions. “I felt fine after the hit and in the third period, but the training staff held me back as a precaution.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said Toews was kept out of the remainder of the game against the Bruins after the hit by defenseman Dennis Seidenberg as a precaution. “He wanted to play,” Quenneville said. “But there are certain protocols you have to go through. We followed it and he’s ready to go.”
Chicago has been on a tear for nearly a month. The Blackhawks have won eight in a row, 11 of 12, and 13 of 15 games since Nov. 9. They’ve moved into first place in the Central Division and are second in the overall standings.
“Consistency,” Quenneville said when asked what he’s liked about his team’s play. “I like the four-line rotation; real solid across the board and everybody’s playing the right way. The penalty-killing has been great; our goaltending all year has been excellent. We’ve got a little momentum, a little excitement within our team right now. Everybody’s excited about playing games. We’ve got a little confidence that we didn’t see earlier in the year.”
With starter Corey Crawford still injured, Quenneville said Scott Darling will start in goal, with Antti Raanta set to play Sunday at home against the Calgary Flames. Darling, who had never played in the NHL prior to this season, is going for his fourth victory in eight days.
Jaroslav Halak will start for the Islanders, who are still second in the Metropolitan Division but return home having lost a season-high three games in a row, including road losses to the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Though his team is hot and the Islanders are not, Quenneville isn’t underestimating a team that won 19 of its first 26 games before the three-game slide.
“They’ve got some skill, they’ve got some speed, they’re dangerous off the rush,” Quenneville said. “They’ve got as good a top line as there is in the game.”
The Blackhawks and Islanders haven’t seen each other since New York’s 3-2 overtime victory at Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 2, but one Islander knows them very well. New York acquired defenseman Nick Leddy from the Blackhawks just before the season, and he’ll be playing against them for the first time.
“It will be weird,” Leddy said of playing against his former team, with which he won the Stanley Cup in 2013. “It’s the first team I ever played on, and most of those guys I became really close to. It will be very weird but it will be fun, for sure.”
Leddy was a third-pair defenseman on a Chicago team that’s loaded on the blue line. With the Islanders, he’s seeing more ice time and playing in all situations. Leddy has five goals and 14 points in 29 games, and is averaging 20:16 of ice time.
“It’s been good playing in circumstances I really didn’t get to do in Chicago,” he said. “I think I’m growing as a player, and that’s good. I’ve learned so much already from being here.”
Quenneville said he’s happy for Leddy’s success.
“It’s good for Nick,” he said. “It’s a good situation for him to be in. In his situation, he got off to a great start. He got an opportunity right off the bat and took advantage of it. It’s up to him to keep moving forward.”
The Islanders had an extra forward on the ice for their optional morning skate. Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, who’s being honored before the game as part of the Islanders’ final season at Nassau Coliseum, met with the current coaches and players, and then took part in the skate.
“We came in this morning and had a great chance to talk with him, then took him around to talk to the players a little bit,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “He was looking forward to the [morning] skate … he was a little disappointed when I told him was a healthy scratch.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg – Brad Richards – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Patrick Sharp
Daniel Carcillo – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Johnny Oduya
Klas Dahlbeck – Michal Rozsival
Scratched: David Rundblad
Injured: Trevor van Riemsdyk (patella), Corey Crawford (lower body)
Nikolay Kulemin - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Michael Grabner
Mikhail Grabovski - Frans Nielsen - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Ryan Strome – Josh Bailey
Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky
Griffin Reinhart - Nick Leddy
Calvin de Haan - Matt Donovan
Scratched: Brian Strait, Eric Boulton
Injured: Matt Carkner (back), Johnny Boychuk (upper body), Travis Hamonic (upper body), Casey Cizikas (upper body)
Status report: Quenneville said Crawford won’t be ready for Chicago’s home game against the Calgary Flames on Sunday but might be able play next week. He skated Saturday morning. … Bailey will play in place of Boulton after sitting out Thursday with a lower-body injury. Reinhart will take the place of Strait, who is minus-5 in his past three games and is a healthy scratch. Capuano said Boychuk, Hamonic and Cizikas are day-to-day but not ready to return.
Who's hot: Darling has won four consecutive decisions, allowing nine goals. Versteeg has five points in his past five games and leads the Blackhawks with 15 assists. … Tavares has goals in two of New York's past three games. Okposo has a goal and three assists in that same span.