Canadiens hit the road to face hot Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- The Montreal Canadiens started play this weekend by dispatching another Original Six team. Repeating the feat against the Chicago Blackhawks is possible but not probable.
While an unbeaten home record has pushed the Canadiens to the top of league standings, they'll take the ice on Sunday evening on Chicago's West Side against the Blackhawks, who have registered points in 10 straight games.
After failing to win a Stanley Cup for nearly 50 years, Chicago (10-3-2) has raised three championship banners since 2010 and is playing with the intent of adding more drapery to the rafters.
The Blackhawks dropped three of five games to start the season, but even with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Friday night, they've gone 8-0-2 in their last 10 games -- outscoring the opposition 32-18 -- to move atop the Western Conference.
"We've been in this stretch for a while now, and we've been extremely fortunate a lot of nights," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We can be better in ways, but we'll take it."
Recent history in the series between two of the league's legacy franchises has Chicago with a decided edge. In nine matchups dating to October 2009, the Blackhawks are 7-0-2, including 5-0-0 in Chicago.
Several players are the driving forces behind the Blackhawks' current points streak. Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin have combined for 21 goals and 23 assists, and Corey Crawford has gone 6-0-2 with a 1.36 goals-against average, .957 save percentage and two shutouts, both on home ice.
Of all those players, Hossa might be the most important. The soon-to-be 38-year-old right winger has scored seven of his eight goals in the last 10 games. He had just 13 in 64 games last season in which he was dinged by nagging injuries.
"I think he's shooting the puck better, scoring some big goals for us as well. It seems like he has the puck even more than he did before," Quenneville said.
Not far behind in importance would be Crawford. The Montreal native is 5-0-2 with a 1.42 GAA, .955 save percentage and one shutout versus his hometown team.
Anisimov, who is tied for the team lead with Hossa in goals (8) and Kane in points (17), remains day to day with an upper-body injury.
While Blackhawks know something about championships in recent years, they've got nothing on Montreal. The Canadiens have won 23 of them, but none since 1993.
And while few teams have been able to stop the Blackhawks so far, Montreal (13-1-1) would easily be their toughest foe.
The Canadiens set a franchise record for best home start (10-0-0) with a 5-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night. Carey Price posted his second shutout and league-best 10th win, and reduced his league-best GAA to 1.40.
However, Montreal is 3-1-1 on the road, and will be playing away from the Bell Centre for the first time since backup goaltender Al Montoya was hung out to dry in a 10-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 4.
The Montreal Gazette reported late Saturday that Montoya, a Chicago native, will start Sunday. He's 1-1-1 with 2.92 GAA and .909 save percentage in his hometown.
"You hate to see what happened to him in Columbus," center Andrew Shaw told the Gazette. "You can't blame him, you blame us. We were not there for him, we didn't compete for him. We didn't battle. We didn't fight. We didn't try to box out. We didn't block shots like we need to. We owe it to him."
Shaw is making his return to Chicago coming off his best game of the season. A two-time Stanley Cup winner and fan favorite for his rugged play, Shaw spent five seasons with the Blackhawks before being dealt to Montreal for two second-round picks on June 24, and signed a six-year extension worth $23.4 million four days later.
On Saturday, he scored his first goal since opening night and added two assists, doubling his points total to six.
"I haven't been playing that well, but I feel I'm taking steps in the right direction," Shaw told the Gazette. "I'm trying for that snowball effect and build off it, every shift, every game."
Quenneville told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights that Shaw was tough to replace and that he will be excited to face his former club.
"It'll be a good challenge for us. Let's be aware of Shawzy on Sunday," Quenneville said.