Blackhawks, Senators eye upward mobility
Two last-place teams in very different situations within their conference standings square off Monday when the Ottawa Senators visit the Chicago Blackhawks.
Though the Blackhawks are tied at the bottom of the Central Division, a recent seven-game winning streak put Chicago within striking distance of a wild card spot in the tightly-compacted Western Conference.
Since that seven-game run, however, the Blackhawks have lost two of three games, including a 5-2 setback to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. Now that Chicago has gotten itself back in the playoff hunt, captain Jonathan Toews wants his team to keep up the good form down the stretch.
"The fact that ... we're giving ourselves chances to win every single night, even if we're not playing our best hockey. I think it is showing how far we've come as a team," Toews said.
"But we know there's that next step that we need to take in these next 20 or so games, and points like (Saturday) are so valuable, you can't let them slip."
The situation is more dire for the Senators, who sit in last place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole.
Barring a lengthy and immediate winning streak, the Senators might already be looking toward next season. There is speculation that Ottawa could deal one or more of its pending unrestricted free agents (i.e. Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel) before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
Still, Ottawa has won three of its last five games, including a pair of wins over the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets. In the view of Senators coach Guy Boucher, the results are starting to match his team's effort.
"We've been playing well for so long now. Some games we didn't get those bounces. ... I think it's fitting at some point that when you deserve those games, that you get them," Boucher said.
Anders Nilsson has a 7-4-0 record with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage over his past 11 games, which includes five consecutive starts for Ottawa. Those strong performances could give Nilsson another outing on Monday, although goaltender Craig Anderson was hopeful of a return against Chicago after missing the Senators' past three games due to an eye injury.
For Chicago, goalie Corey Crawford has been practicing and is getting closer to a return after missing 24 games due to a concussion. If Crawford isn't ready to go by Monday, Chicago could give Cam Ward his fourth start in five games, or turn to rookie goalie Collin Delia.
Patrick Kane has collected 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) over the course of a 17-game point streak, tied for the longest streak in the league this season. Kane also has at least one assist in 16 straight games; one helper against Ottawa would tie Kane with Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey for the third-longest assists streak in NHL history.
Chicago has won four in a row over Ottawa, including a 4-3 overtime victory in the season opener on Oct. 4. The Blackhawks are 13-3-1 in their past 17 games against the Senators, dating to 2007.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 17, 2019