Coyotes-Blackhawks Preview

The Chicago Blackhawks wish they would have picked up some more

points on their just-completed trip, but they couldn’t be happier

with how that stretch ended.

Now the Central Division-leading Blackhawks will try to keep the

momentum going in Chicago, where they’ll spend much of their time

over the next two months.

Chicago plays its first game at the United Center in more than

two weeks Tuesday night when it goes for a fourth consecutive

victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

After scoring four goals combined in losses to Calgary, Edmonton

and San Jose, the Blackhawks (14-7-3) finished their trip 3-3-0.

One day after scoring four third-period goals in a 6-5 victory over

Anaheim, Chicago won 2-1 over Los Angeles on Saturday.

“It would have been nice to be maybe 4-2, but 3-3 is not bad,”

said Patrick Kane, who had a goal and three assists on the trip.

“… There’s a lot of games (in Chicago) and December and January,

so it’s nice to be back.”

The Blackhawks, who are a Western Conference-best 7-1-2 at home,

play 19 of 26 at the United Center before embarking on a franchise

high-tying nine-game trip starting Jan. 31. Coach Joel Quenneville

knows there could be a letdown Tuesday following the grueling trip,

but he also views this upcoming stretch as an opportunity to create

separation with the teams playing catch-up in the conference

race.

“We want to make sure we prioritize our home games,” Quenneville

said following Monday’s practice. “… We don’t want to be fancy

tomorrow night, we want to be simple. I think we improved

defensively in two of our last three games.”

The Blackhawks’ power-play has also made a nice improvement,

converting 29.7 percent (11 for 37) in the last nine games after

going 5 for 57 with the man advantage in the first 15.

Continuing this recent trend could be tough with the Coyotes

(12-7-3) coming to town. They are among the league’s best on the

penalty kill at 88.9 percent.

A major reason has been the play of Mike Smith. The veteran

netminder allowed a season-high five goals in Friday’s 5-0 loss to

Vancouver, but he’s 11-4-3 with a 2.19 goals-against average after

making 26 saves in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Dallas.

“What I like about Mike is his consistency and how he handles

himself,” coach Dave Tippett said. “That’s why he’s a big part of

what we’re doing now.”

If Smith gets the start, it will be his first against the

Blackhawks since turning aside 31 shots in a 2-0 Tampa Bay victory

in Chicago on April 3.

Jason LaBarbera made 30 saves on Oct. 18 in the Coyotes’ 5-2

home loss to Chicago.

Whoever starts in net needs to be aware of Blackhawks captain

Jonathan Toews, who led the club with 10 points on the trip. He had

a career-high five points in the victory over Anaheim and has the

game-winner in each of the last two contests.

Toews, who found the back of the net last month against Phoenix,

scored twice in regulation and netted the only goal in the

tiebreaker in the Coyotes’ last visit, a 4-3 Chicago victory Feb.

27.

Phoenix has been outscored 25-9 while losing six of eight

visiting the Blackhawks.

The Coyotes will likely get their second shot at Corey Crawford,

who made 14 saves Oct. 18 to improve to 3-0-1 with a 1.92 GAA in

this matchup.

Phoenix makes its final visit to Chicago this season Monday.