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It wasn’t pretty, but the Montreal Canadiens found their way back into the wins column on Wednesday night with a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both the effort and the result were much needed for a team coming off a disastrous outing at home against the Buffalo Sabres, and gives the Habs a little bit of momentum as they head toward a Western Canada road trip. Before the Habs head for the prairies (and beyond), they have two more games to navigate. First up, a trip to the Windy City for a matinée date with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Tale of the Tape
|45.1% (26th)||Scoring-chances-for %||39.5% (32nd)|
|3.00 (19th)||Goals per game||2.53 (31st)|
|3.55 (27th)||Goals against per game||3.53 (26th)|
|15.3% (28th)||PP%||20.7% (19th)|
|80.3% (13th)||PK%||74.6% (24th)|
|0-1-1||H2H Record ('21-22)||2-0-0|
Montreal’s trip to Chicago will be a reunion on many levels. This will be their first meeting with former assistant (and temporary head) coach Luke Richardson since his departure for the Blackhawks’ head coaching position. Aside from that, the Habs will also be facing off against alumni Max Domi (currently Chicago’s top-line centre) and Jarred Tinordi, both acquired as free agents this summer. The Blackhawks, of course, also still feature veteran stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, as well as star defenceman Seth Jones, who recently returned to the lineup after a stint on Injured Reserve.
The biggest news narrative though, will be Kirby Dach’s return to the city that he called home for the first three years of his NHL career. Despite that stint full of “ups and downs”, Dach was still surprised to be dealt at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Since arriving in Montreal, the young forward has showcased the talent and potential that led the Hawks to select him third overall back in 2019, and he currently has 17 points in 20 games. While Dach is downplaying the significance of his first game against the Hawks since being dealt, he did concede that “any time anybody gets traded, you want to have a good game against them and prove them wrong.”
The Blackhawks were widely predicted to challenge for the league’s basement this year, a notion that was reinforced by general manager Kyle Davidson dealing star forward Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators during the off-season. Despite this, possibly galvanized by Richardson’s desire to “make [Davidson’s] job the toughest job possible,” the team defied expectations out of the gate, holding an above .500 record as recently as November 13. The clock may have struck midnight, however. Since a 3-2 overtime win in Anaheim over the Ducks, the Blackhawks have dropped five straight and now sit dead last in the Central Division, behind even the Arizona Coyotes.
Still, the Blackhawks are not that unlike the Canadiens. For starters, both offences are very top heavy: Chicago has three double-digit point-getters (Toews, Kane, and Domi), while Montreal has four (Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Dach, and Sean Monahan). Further, both teams have seven goals from blue-liners, and their goaltending lines are almost identical: a .902 save percentage and 3.25 goals-against average for Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault, compared to a .903 and 3.35 for Alex Stalock, Arvid Soderblom, Petr Mrazek, and Dylan Wells.
The main difference between the two teams? The Canadiens have scored 62 times, good for 17th in the league. The Blackhawks have only scored 48 times, which puts them second from the bottom. Or, in other words, the difference between Suzuki and Caufield (23 total) and Toews and Andreas Athanasiou (14 total). Fine margins, indeed, and a reminder to the Habs to not take this opponent (or any opponent) lightly.
That said, something has to be said for momentum. Chicago has not just lost five straight, but they’ve allowed five or more goals against in their last four. To rub salt in the wound, they led their most recent game 4-1 with 10 minutes to go in the third period, only to lose 6-4 to the Dallas Stars. Meanwhile, the Buffalo debacle is somewhat overshadowing the fact that the Canadiens do actually have five wins in their last eight games, and have more than a fair chance to make it seven out of 10 if they beat Chicago and the San Jose Sharks. Pulling off such a feat would be the perfect capper to November.