The Chicago Blackhawks picked an opportune time to play better on the road— the middle of a long trip.
The Blackhawks try to stay perfect on their six-game trek Saturday when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Chicago (9-4-5) has won the first two on its annual circus trip and three straight on the road overall after a 6-3 win Thursday at Dallas. The Blackhawks had taken just one point from their first four road games (0-3-1) before their recent surge.
“We need to be an above .500 team on the road, and we’re on the way to doing that,” Kris Versteeg said. “That comes with a lot of hard work. Everyone seems to be buying in.”
Versteeg broke a 3-all tie and added two assists, and Patrick Kane scored two goals as the Blackhawks tied a season high for goals.
After getting two points in his first four games, Kane has a point in 12 of his last 15 games. He also has seven multipoint games and is among the league leaders with 24 points. The reigning Calder Trophy winner had two assists in his only meeting with Toronto, a 6-4 road win on Oct. 20, 2007.
Versteeg, second on the team with 19 points, has scored four times in his current three-game goal streak but has never faced the Maple Leafs (7-8-4).
The duo has helped Chicago climb to near the top of the league with 3.56 goals per game, and they are facing a Maple Leafs team that is nearly last in goals allowed at 3.37 per game.
Vesa Toskala has allowed two goals in all but one game and four or more in seven of his starts.
“He’s got to realize that he hasn’t played well,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “He’s too deep in the net. He’s a small goalie. He needs to get out of the crease.”
However, Toskala, who is scheduled to start Saturday’s game, has won three straight against Chicago and is 4-2-0 lifetime.
Erratic special teams and slow starts are other reasons why the Maple Leafs are 2-5-1 in their last eight and trying to avoid a third straight loss.
While Toronto is among the league’s top teams on the power play at 21.5 percent, it ranks near the bottom in penalty killing, allowing opponents to convert 26.7 percent of its chances.
In Monday’s 3-2 loss to Boston, Toronto didn’t allow a power-play goal for the first time in eight games—killing three opportunities. But the Maple Leafs also failed to convert on their five power-play chances after scoring eight such goals in their previous four games.
Toronto also has trailed after one period seven times in its eight-game slump, including a 2-1 deficit versus Boston on Monday.
After sitting 11 games as a healthy scratch, converted defenseman Ian White has a six-game points streak but has none in two meetings with Chicago.
Matt Stajan, the team’s leader with 17 points, had a six-game points streak snapped against Boston. It was just the second time in his last 13 games he failed to record a point.
The Blackhawks have won the last three meetings dating back to 2004, and the past two games in Toronto.