Maple Leafs-Blackhawks Preview
Some streaky play over the last six weeks continues to frustrate the Chicago Blackhawks.
A visit from the Toronto Maple Leafs could help end their latest rough stretch.
The Blackhawks look to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat Wednesday night when they try for a seventh straight win over the struggling Maple Leafs in an Original Six matchup at the United Center.
Since Jan. 15, Chicago (33-24-7) has won three in row, then lost nine straight prior to winning the next four before dropping its last three. That stretch of inconsistency has left the Blackhawks stuck in the bottom half of the top eight teams in the Western Conference playoff race.
Chicago has been outscored 10-2 by Dallas, Los Angeles and Anaheim during their current three-game skid. The Blackhawks have scored four times in the last four games without star captain Jonathan Toews, who will miss his fifth straight contest because of an apparent concussion.
Though Blackhawks ended an 0-for-39 power-play drought with Patrick Kane's first-period goal Sunday, they recorded a season-low 19 shots for the second straight game in a 3-1 road loss to the Ducks.
"Offensively, we're not doing much right now,'' said Kane, who has a career-low 14 goals in 64 games. "We need some contributions from everyone. You can always say you need your best players to be your best players. That's something that we need to get better at, too, including myself.''
Missing Toews and his team-leading 29 goals won't help, but the Blackhawks might have a better chance of preventing pucks from reaching the net with Monday's acquisition of defenseman Johnny Oduya from Winnipeg. The sixth-year veteran had two goals with 11 assists in 63 games for the Jets in 2011-12. He hopes to help a short-handed defense corps without Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador due to upper-body injuries.
"(Oduya's) style really fits in with us,'' Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "He'll eat up minutes for us on defense."
With Oduya, Chicago looks to continue its recent dominance over Toronto (29-27-7), which has been outscored 26-15 during an 0-5-1 series stretch that dates to a 3-1 victory at the United Center on Feb. 12, 2003.
Kane has two goals with three assists in four career games versus Toronto. Teammate Marian Hossa has six with seven assists in his last nine against the Maple Leafs, including one of each during Chicago's 5-3 win at Toronto on March 5.
The Maple Leafs lost for the ninth time in 10 games, 5-3 at home to Florida on Tuesday. Toronto, 10th in the East and four points out of the final playoff spot, has not reached the postseason since 2004.
"Every guy is embarrassed,'' defenseman Luke Schenn said. "It's definitely not fun right now.''
While Toronto's faithful fans continue to jeer coach Ron Wilson, general manager Brian Burke declared his support for his embattled coach Monday.
"You get exasperated and you get frustrated,'' Wilson said. "But (Wednesday's) a new day. We've got to pull up our bootstraps and get going.''
Kessel has six goals with 10 assists in the last 12 contests, and five goals in five career games versus Chicago.