The Chicago Blackhawks are coming off one of their best all-around performances of the season as they host the Montreal Canadiens at home Sunday evening. The second leg of a back-to-back can always be difficult, especially when there’s travel between games involved, but the Hawks have some momentum to build off of.
The defense in particular had one of its more complete efforts in the 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. The top pairing of Duncan Keith and Cody Franson totally shut down Minnesota’s top line, and the third pairing of Connor Murphy and Michal Kempny took advantage of easier assignments to put up very good numbers.
The second pairing, which had Jan Rutta on his offside next to Brent Seabrook, didn’t so as well, but it’s not like it was a total disaster, either. On the whole, it was an encouraging effort from a group that’s been in flux most of the season.
Now they get to return home to face the Canadiens, who have been one of the league’s worst teams this season despite strong shot numbers. They’re struggling on special teams, and even more worrisome, goaltender Carey Price hasn’t looked like his usual self.
Montreal usually goes as Price goes, so while the Habs’ offense got a lot of attention earlier in the season, that won’t really matter if the team continues to have a save percentage below 87 percent. That’s beyond terrible, and the Blackhawks should be licking their lips at the chance to take on a team that’s had its confidence in its netminders shaken to the core.
It won’t really matter who starts, either. Price has a .877 save percentage in 11 games. Backup goalie Al Montoya, a Chicago native, has an even worse .863 save percentage in four appearances. Price missed the Habs’ last game due to injury, and it’s possible he’s out again Sunday.
The Canadiens’ offense has come back to life of late with 21 goals over the past four games, during which the team has gone 3-1-0. But their goaltending has been a mess, and that’ll present the Blackhawks with an opportunity. Chicago will also have to hope that Crawford (or possibly Anton Forsberg) is ready to face a shot of shots. Luckily, if Crawford does go, he tends to play well against Montreal, where he grew up.
The other thing to watch Sunday will be the status of Gustav Forsling, who could return from an upper-body injury. However, it’s unclear how his presence would change the lineup after a very good outing.
F1: Alex DeBrincat — Jonathan Toews — Richard Panik
F2: Brandon Saad — Nick Schmaltz — Patrick Kane
F3: Patrick Sharp — Artem Anisimov — John Hayden
F4: Lance Bouma — Tommy Wingels — Ryan Hartman
D1: Duncan Keith — Cody Franson
D2: Jan Rutta — Brent Seabrook
D3: Michal Kempny — Connor Murphy
Goaltender: Corey Crawford
F1: Artturi Lehkonen — Jonathan Drouin — Alex Galchenyuk
F2: Max Pacioretty — Phillip Danault — Andrew Shaw
F3: Paul Byron — Tomas Plekanec — Brendan Gallagher
F4: Charles Hudon — Michael McCarron — Torrey Mitchell
D1: Victor Mete — Shea Weber
D2: Karl Alzner — Jeff Petry
D3: Joe Morrow — Jordie Benn
Goaltender: Al Montoya
How to watch Blackhawks vs. Canadiens
Start time: 6 p.m. CT
Location: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: NBC Sports Live