The Chicago Blackhawks only have two preseason games remaining on their schedule before they open the regular season in eight days, and on Wednesday night they’ll hit the ice against the Montreal Canadiens for their final exhibition skate at the United Center.
Most of the team’s regulars will be in the lineup for the game, including all six starting defenseman and 11 of their 12 forwards. Marian Hossa won’t be in the lineup as he continues to deal with a minor lower body injury. He did practice with the team on Wednesday during their morning skate, so while he would likely play if it were a regular season game, the team will approach the situation with an excess of caution.
In Hossa’s place on the top line will be Ben Smith, whose fourth line spot will be occupied by Jeremy Morin. Morin’s status as a regular with the Hawks is up in the air at the moment, as head coach Joel Quenneville seems intent to put Brandon Mashinter on the fourth line on a regular basis. That would leave Morin to compete with Kris Versteeg for a role on the third line with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw, but with how Quenneville has been talking about Versteeg this preseason, it seems unlikely that Morin will be able to usurp him very often for playing time.
As for the Canadiens, they will be leaving most of their big guns at home. PK Subban is among those who won’t be making the trip, as is Max Pacioretty. Goaltender Carey Price will be making the trip to the United Center however, and he will be starting against Antti Raanta for the Hawks. Quenneville hinted on Tuesday that Raanta will play the entire game against Montreal, giving him one last chance to tune up before the regular season begins.
Aside from the goaltending matchup, the big thing to watch in this game will be how the power play units are constructed for the Blackhawks. Brad Richards has bumped Nick Leddy as a point man on the second power play unit, skating alongside Brent Seabrook at the blue line, and his mix of passing ability and aggressive pinches through the slot should mean that the group should create more scoring chances in the process.
As for the first unit, they will be intact from last season, with Shaw patrolling the front of the net, Kane and Toews on the wings, and Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp manning the point. That group can score goals in bunches at times, but this will likely be the last time we’ll see them together before the regular season, so they’re worth keeping an eye on.