After finishing a three-game road trip with back-to-back victories against Vegas and Columbus, the Chicago Blackhawks begin a two-game homestand on Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Blackhawks, who began the season with a 0-7-2 record, have climbed within 10 points of the secondWestern Conference wild-card position despite going through another six-game winless streak (0-3-3) that included an ugly 6-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes to begin the recent road trip.
The Blackhawks held a players-only team meeting after that defeat and then bounced back to surprise the Pacific Division leading-Golden Knights 2-1 on Saturday. Chicago followed with a 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
"These two games at home are going to be huge for us," Chicago defenseman Riley Stillman said when asked about trying to build on the momentum of the back-to-back road wins.
Adding to the excitement for Chicago fans on Thursday will be the NHL debut of highly touted forward Lukas Reichel.
The 19-year-old from Nuremberg, Germany, was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft. He was called up to the taxi squad in time for the team's practice on Wednesday and skated on a line that included 2016 Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome.
Reichel was named the AHL's Player of the Week on Monday after amassing three goals and three assists in two games for the Rockford (Ill.) IceHogs. He has 11 goals and nine assists in 20 AHL games this season.
"He's played well down there," interim Chicago coach Derek King said. "He's obviously one of our highly skilled prospects coming up, and we want to do it right."
King said the plan is for Reichel to get a taste of the NHL before returning to Rockford.
"There's been years of seeing players get called up, started too early, and they don't end up finishing with your team," King said. "This is a chance to do it right by him and I think the process is going to be key and I think it's doing well."
Interim Rockford head coach Anders Sorensen told the Chicago Sun-Times, "The abilities he's got are obviously lights out. But there's part of his game that he's still got to fine-tune (including) his play without the puck. He's getting better. He's making strides. He's an extremely smart player and smart person. It's just a matter of working on it and learning to be a pro every day."
Montreal will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set that started with a 5-1 loss at Boston on Wednesday. It was the Canadiens' first game since a 5-2 road loss to the Florida Panthers on Jan. 1, as the team was then shut down as a preventative measure due to a steady stream of players going into COVID-19 protocol. Montreal returned to practice on Sunday.
"It's tough to come off a break like that," Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry said. "It's hard to jump right into that compete, that battle, and I think that is kind of what hurt us tonight (against the Bruins).
"We were closing quick, we were on the puck. The support was a little slow to scoop it. ... They were on top of the puck quickly and able to scoop up the puck when we were a half-second slow. I think a good amount of the goals were a reflection of that."
The Canadiens have lost four games in a row (0-3-1) and 11 of the past 12 (1-9-2).
The Thursday game will be the second contest of a seven-game road trip for the Canadiens.
--Field Level Media