Blackhawks Buzz: Jan. 11, 2014 at Montreal Canadiens
When the Blackhawks hit the ice against the Canadiens at Bell Centre tomorrow night, it likely won’t be long before they have to contend with the Habs’ top defenseman, P.K. Subban. The reigning Norris Trophy winner is known as one of the most exciting, entertaining and occasionally divisive players in the league, but there’s no doubt how effective he is on the ice: He leads his team in points, assists, plus/minus rating and power-play points. Subban brings puck possession and offensive production while also being physically tough and tenacious in his own right.
If Subban and defensive partner Andrei Markov are the Canadiens’ first line of defense, 2014 Olympic goaltender Carey Price has been a staunch last line this year. Though the 26-year-old netminder has shouldered one of the NHL’s heaviest workloads, starting 35 of 45 games this season, Price has remained remarkably consistent; he’s allowed just over two goals per game while also posting one of the league’s best save percentages (.928). Price hasn’t lost a game in regulation since Dec. 19, a span of seven appearances.
Both Chicago (10 games) and Montreal (4) had point streaks broken with regulation losses on Wednesday night—the Blackhawks fell 3-2 to the New York Rangers, and Montreal suffered a 3-1 loss at Philadelphia. The Blackhawks are just 1-1-2 in the new year and 5-1-4 in their last 10 games. Eleven of the team’s remaining 14 games before the Olympic break are against Western Conference opponents, but the team is 11-2-3 against the East so far this season, so this contest is a crucial chance to grab two points and maintain their lofty place in the West.
Even though the Blackhawks haven’t visited the home of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge very often lately, it might be for the best; the Hawks have an all-time record of just 54-174-48-3 in their travels to Montreal. Granted, much of this record was accumulated in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, when the Habs featured a lineup full of Hall of Famers and were seemingly winning Stanley Cups at will, but regardless, Chicago hasn’t won on Habs ice since Dec. 3, 2001. While the Blackhawks are a solid 14-5-3 on the road this season, the Bell Centre is one of the league’s most hostile environments, with 21,000-plus fans who get loud at the first note of “O Canada” and don’t stop until the final horn.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville announced at practice on Thursday that Marcus Kruger would likely start Saturday's game at second-line center between Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane. Kruger's speed and improved faceoff abilities—his 56.8 winning percentage matches Jonathan Toews for the team lead—could prove to be a good fit with the two playmakers he'll skate between. Kruger has four goals and 14 assists this year while skating primarily with the team's fourth line.
Montreal is one of the NHL’s stingiest teams in terms of goals allowed (2.29 goals per game, fourth-best in the league), and their 86.3 penalty-killing percentage will put goals at a premium in tonight’s game. However, they also rank in the league’s bottom 10 in terms of goals scored per game. If one side gets even a two-goal lead early on, that may be enough to seal the victory for either team.