After two consecutive victories, the Montreal Canadiens will aim to match their longest winning streak of the season when they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
As modest as a three-game win streak might be, the Canadiens will take any achievement they can get amidst a difficult season. Montreal’s 22-27-4 record puts the team in last place in the Atlantic Division, and six teams sit between the Canadiens and the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth.
However, due to the fairly congested nature of the East standings, the Canadiens haven’t yet given up hope. Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers was one of Montreal’s best performances of the season, and perhaps indicative of the Habs’ potential.
“If you play as a unit of 18 plus the goalie, there is no easy game,” said forward Alex Belzile, whose first career NHL goal opened the scoring for the Canadiens. “Teams win over sometimes an individual, so we had a really good game.”
Fourteen different Montreal players recorded at least one point, as the Canadiens stopped an Oilers team that entered on an 11-game (9-0-2) points streak.
The Blackhawks, mired in last place in the Western Conference, can only hope for a similar offensive surge. Chicago’s 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday marked the 18th time in 51 games this season that the Blackhawks have been held to one goal or fewer.
The Jets took a 3-0 lead into the third period before Tyler Johnson scored Chicago’s lone goal. Though the Blackhawks outshot the Jets by a 32-28 margin, a two-goal deficit was as close as the Blackhawks could get.
“I thought we had some good looks at the end, even with the 6-on-5 (after pulling the goalie),” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. “But (Connor) Hellebuyck’s a good goaltender and they play a real strong structure so we just couldn’t get that next one in.”
The Blackhawks also play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, so Petr Mrazek and rookie Jaxson Stauber are likely to split the back-to-back games in some order. Since Mrazek faced Winnipeg, Stauber might be next up to face Montreal.
Stauber has begun his NHL career in impressive fashion, posting a 3-0-0 record and 2.29 goals-against average over his first three starts. With Mrazek struggling and Alex Stalock recovering from a concussion, the Blackhawks might opt to give Stauber more time in net as the team looks towards the future.
Sam Montembeault and Jake Allen have been alternating starts for the Canadiens lately, so Montembeault could face the Blackhawks since Allen played against Edmonton.
Tuesday’s game will be a matchup of struggling special teams units. Chicago is 1-for-19 on the power play in its last 10 games, while Montreal’s penalty-killers have stopped only 19 of 31 opposing power-play chances in the Canadiens’ last nine games.
Joel Edmundson and Arber Xhekaj are each questionable for Montreal’s lineup due to upper-body injuries. Edmundson has missed the Habs’ last four games, while Xhekaj made an early exit from Sunday’s game.
The Canadiens won the first meeting of the year between the Original Six rivals, defeating the Blackhawks in a 3-2 shootout in Chicago on Nov. 25.
–Field Level Media