The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t looked very ready recently with the way they’re starting games, let alone ready for a return to the postseason.
The stumbling Blackhawks would like to avoid another poor opening period Sunday afternoon and close a four-game homestand on a positive note by beating the league-worst New York Islanders.
It appeared Chicago (37-20-9) was cruising toward its first playoff berth since 2002 after an 8-2-0 stretch into late February put the team comfortably in fourth place in the Western Conference. That’s where the Blackhawks remain, so it appears likely their postseason drought will end, but they have not been performing at a playoff-caliber level with losses in six of their last nine.
Bad starts have been a major concern lately. Chicago’s only win in its last four games came in a shootout and it has trailed after the first period in each, getting outscored 6-0.
“We’ve got to start harder and play a complete game,” center Jonathan Toews told the team’s official Web site.
The Blackhawks have held the lead for less than 15 of their last 245 minutes played.
Chicago fell behind 2-0 after the first 11:02 against Columbus on Friday night en route to a 5-3 defeat.
“We had a good finish, but to be successful in this league you have to have a good start,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “Any time you give up two goals early and don’t respond in the first period, it’s pretty tough to come back in this league.”
Chicago allowed five goals for the fifth time in eight games, a trend which may lead coach Joel Quenneville to stick Nikolai Khabibulin back in net. He hasn’t played since aggravating a groin injury Feb. 11, but was activated from injured reserve Wednesday and served as Cristobal Huet’s backup Friday.
Huet, who has started 12 of Chicago’s last 14 games, is 2-4-0 with a 3.45 goals-against average in his last seven starts. Khabibulin is 17-5-5 with a 2.37 GAA on the season, though he hasn’t faced the Islanders since 2004.
New York (23-38-8) has been getting solid goaltending lately from Yann Danis, who is 5-3-0 with a 1.64 GAA and two shutouts in his last eight starts. However, he continues to split time with Joey MacDonald, who has three wins in his last 23 starts.
Islanders coach Scott Gordon could put MacDonald back in net Sunday to avoid playing Danis on back-to-back days. Danis played a 3-2 overtime win at Montreal on Thursday before making 23 saves in a 2-1 loss to East-leading Boston on Saturday afternoon.
It was another encouraging performance as far as Gordon was concerned, considering it came against the team tied for the league’s best record. New York has a league-low 54 points, but 12 have come in its last nine games.
“It’s been great. Our guys have really come together. They’re playing hard for each other,” Gordon said. “They’re supportive on the ice and off the ice and in the room. It’s something we’ve been striving for in the second half, and it’s been consistent.”
New York has won the last four meetings with Chicago, but the teams haven’t played since Oct. 31, 2006.