The Chicago Blackhawks are sitting atop the Central Division and own one of the league’s best home records as they prepare to host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. After going 3-3-1 on their annual circus road trip, the Blackhawks returned home with a 2-1 shootout victory over Florida on Tuesday to improve to 9-1-2 at United Center.
“That was a long trip. We were excited to come back home,” Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford said after matching his season high with 38 saves. While Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews could sit out his fourth straight game Thursday, New Jersey is optimistic that Taylor Hall could return to the lineup. The Devils have been weathering a grueling scheduling of their own, nearing the end of a stretch where 12 of their 16 games have been played away from home. The travel appears to be catching up with New Jersey, which has dropped three straight one-goal decisions and six of its last seven (1-4-2) following a five-game winning streak.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, MSG Plus-2 (New Jersey), CSN Chicago
ABOUT THE DEVILS (10-7-5): Hall was New Jersey’s leading scorer before suffering a knee injury that forced him to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus on Nov. 16. Having missed eight games, Hall is upbeat that he will be ready to play against Chicago. “I think I’m ready to go,” Hall told The Record of New Jersey. “With injuries, you want to get to 100 percent before you come back, but you never know if you’re actually 100 percent until you play in a game and you feel that pace and that speed.”
ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (15-6-3): Toews is expected back in the lineup Saturday versus Philadelphia, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, citing a source. Chicago could also be without center Artem Anisimov, who injured his foot when he was struck by a puck Tuesday and is scheduled to be re-examined on Thursday morning. One positive note for Chicago was the emergence of a deep slump by Richard Panik, who halted a 17-game goalless drought with the lone regulation tally Tuesday before also scoring in the shootout.
1. Devils G Cory Schneider has permitted at least three goals in each of his past five starts.
2. Chicago F Marian Hossa has not hit the scoresheet in five games, but he has 20 goals and 43 points in 46 games against the Devils.
3. Devils F Beau Bennett was placed on injured reserve after suffering a right leg laceration during Monday’s practice.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 4, Devils 2