By Justin Einhorn
Stats Senior Editor
NY Islanders (23-38-8) at Chicago (37-20-9), 3:00 pm EDT
CHICAGO (Ticker) — 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
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.”
Seabrook ended a 23-game goal drought, Kris Versteeg scored for
the third time in four games and Patrick Kane netted one to
raise his team-leading point total to 60.
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
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.