The Chicago Blackhawks’ recent stretch has seen them roll through some of the best the Western Conference can offer.
One of the East’s top teams has seen in person just how formidable they can be.
The Montreal Canadiens look to avenge last month’s blowout loss to the red-hot Blackhawks and re-establish their dominance following a rough patch Friday night in Chicago.
The Blackhawks (16-8-1) have won a season-high four straight and nine of 11 after taking care of Central Division-leading St. Louis 4-1 on Wednesday. Their previous two victories were by the same score, beating defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles and West-leading Anaheim.
“We’ve been playing the right way, particularly lately,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Eventually, you get your turn.”
Wednesday marked Chicago’s return home after a 10-day, six-game road trip which included five victories. The Blackhawks have averaged 4.7 goals in the last eight games, compared to 2.5 through their first 17.
“We have way more pace to our game,” Quenneville said. “Way more directness, way more consistency, better thought process. Everybody’s excited right now.
“We got some momentum and everybody’s having fun with it. We came together on that trip and got it going.”
Patrick Kane has led the charge with eight goals and seven assists over his last nine games after scoring twice Wednesday. Linemate Kris Versteeg assisted on both of Kane’s goals and has 14 points in his last eight contests.
Brad Richards has also displayed the talent level Chicago hoped to see after signing the 34-year-old center in the offseason. Richards has three goals and two assists in his last three games. He had only three goals through his first 22 games.
Richards, Kane and Versteeg all scored against Carey Price in a 5-0 win at Montreal on Nov. 4.
The Canadiens (17-8-2) bounced back from that game to win six straight and Price has since posted a 1.71 goals-against average, but his team heads into the rematch in a funk. Montreal has dropped four of five to lose its lead atop the East, including a 2-1 defeat in Minnesota on Wednesday behind just 19 shots.
“When we have success, it’s for a reason: we’re all on the same page and we all play a certain way,” club points leader Max Pacioretty said. “When we get away from that, we’re just another team. When we play the way we’re capable of … that’s when we have success and that’s when we’re a great team.”
The primary reason for the Canadiens’ recent woes has been their offensive shortcomings. Montreal’s already average offense, which scored 2.68 goals per game through the season’s first 19, has averaged 1.88 in the last eight.
Tomas Plekanec ranks second on the team with 18 points but has one in the past five games. David Desharnais, who had 16 goals last season, has scored one in his last 20 games.
Patrick Sharp led Chicago with 34 goals last season but hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury in the first meeting with Montreal. Sharp skated with the team this week, though, and may return Friday.
Chicago’s Antti Raanta performed well Wednesday with 40 saves in place of Corey Crawford (foot) and will likely start Friday as well.
Montreal has lost all four of its visits to the United Center since winning there Feb. 27, 2002.