CHICAGO — Ask Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to find a common denominator among his team's 10 wins this season and he points to a paper-thin margin between victory and defeat.
The Blackhawks carry a seven-game winning streak into Friday night's test against the Washington Capitals at the United Center. Of the seven, four of Chicago's wins have been decided by one goal, including the Blackhawks 2-1 overtime win over St. Louis on Wednesday night.
“Certainly (have been) very fortunate in a lot of these games,” Quenneville said after Chicago's practice on Thursday. “They're almost very comparable from start to finish. They're all close and finding a way to win is important.”
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The Blackhawks (10-3-1) have relied on steady play in net from both Corey Crawford and Scott Darling. Crawford is allowing just 1.91 goals per game and has a .939 saves percentage. Chicago's much-maligned penalty-killing unit has been much better of late, which has played a hand in the Blackhawks current win streak.
As well as things have been rolling, however, the Blackhawks face a Capitals team that has strung together win streaks of three and five games — the latter of which was snapped in a 3-0 loss to San Jose on Tuesday night. Chicago will likely be without leading scorer Artem Anisimov (eight goals, nine assists), who sustained an upper-body injury against St. Louis. Anisimov is listed as questionable for Friday night's game and also could miss Chicago's tilt Sunday against the NHL's top team when Montreal visits the United Center.
Regardless of Anisimov's status, Quenneville knows his team will have its hands full against the Capitals.
“It's always a big game,” Quenneville said. “You know you've got to be at your best against them. The games have been very competitive.
“Certainly when you're playing top guys, they get your attention.”
Despite its overall success, Washington (8-3-1) isn't without its issues. Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson have tallied 11 points respectively while Braden Holtby — whom Quenneville on Thursday characterized by as “very competitive kid” — has been solid in net over 10 starts in net this season.
But Washington's second power-play unit has yet to register a goal this season while the Capitals' overall success while skating with a man advantage has dipped. The special teams unit has scored only one goal in its last 15 opportunities, which ranks 24th in the league with a 13.2 success rate.
On Friday, the Capitals will face a Blackhawks penalty killing-unit that has a 67.3 percentage — which has drastically improved over the course of the team's seven-game win streak.
“Of course we have to play better, but the coaches help plan,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said, according to the Washington Post. “We're trying to stay with that plan, but sometimes we did wrong. We have to fix it a little bit, some small areas. I think at some point, the pucks are going in for sure. We just have to be close to each other and maybe use the small areas a little bit and make more shots.”