MONTREAL, Quebec — Montreal: a great city to visit for just about anyone who loves culture, beautiful sights and, naturally, a staunch hockey history.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ visits to this fair city, however, haven’t been very successful lately. Yes, NHL scheduling meant infrequent trips to Montreal, but it’s nevertheless been more than 12 years (Dec. 3, 2001), since their last victory here. The team is hoping shook-up lines and better starts snap that trend.
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So while you dream of poutine and we make it a lunchtime reality, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blackhawks-Canadiens game:
1. Start better, pronto. It wasn’t that long ago when the Blackhawks were a quick-starting, high-octane team right out of the gate. As the calendar turned, so did that trend. The Blackhawks have not scored a first-period goal in January — their last was on Dec. 30 against the Los Angeles Kings — and they want to get back to those tremendous and productive starts. When they do, they’re very successful; the Blackhawks are 17-0-2 when leading after the first period this season.
2. Crawford’s home motivation. OK, not getting picked for Team Canada didn’t lead to Corey Crawford having a great game on Wednesday. So let’s see if being in his hometown of Montreal does it for him. Crawford played great in his only other outing here, in April of 2011. He returns a Stanley Cup champion, but also returns coming off one of his worst starts of the season. Perhaps the Bell Centre can rejuvenate him.
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3. Gain some power. The Canadiens have a great penalty kill overall (third in the league) but for some reason it’s not as good at the Bell Centre (14th overall at 83.1 percent). The Blackhawks’ road power play, which is No. 2 in the league (26.2 percent), might want to take advantage of that.
4. Beware of Max. Canadiens forward and Patrick Kane’s soon-to-be Team USA teammate Max Pacioretty has been producing well as of late. The left wing has seven points, including four goals, over his last five games.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Bryan Bickell. Yes, we’ve picked him a few times in the Five Things and we don’t think it’s gone very well. But Bickell’s got to shake out of his doldrums at some point. Perhaps a move to the second line and playing with Kane does that.