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
“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.
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
Phoenix makes its final visit to Chicago this season Monday.