MONTREAL -- For Montreal native Corey Crawford, a diehard Habs fan growing up, a start in the 21,273-seat Bell Centre is as good as it gets.
Crawford, an eight-year veteran, has only made one prior appearance at the corner of de la Montagne and Saint-Antoine, a 3-2 shootout loss in which he made 33 saves on 35 shots.
“That was a great night,” Crawford said, smiling. “I had a lot of nerves, a lot of emotion, but it was cool. When you’re a kid growing up in Montreal, hockey is the world and the Canadiens are life.
“That hasn’t changed. The fans are as passionate as ever, and I still get chills thinking about the atmosphere in here.”
While he was unable to attend many games growing up, Crawford made the most of his experiences. Among them, a growing fascination with one of the greatest goalies in NHL history.
“Without question, Patrick Roy was my idol. He was the man,” Crawford laughed. “He was one of the best in the game, which was great, because we all got to see him up close in Montreal. I can’t even put into words how influential he was to me and other children growing up around here.”
Roy’s No. 33 banner hangs 200 feet above the crease, a minor detail not lost on Crawford as he took to the ice for the morning skate.
Montreal will always be home.
“It’s so special to come back here,” Crawford said. “I had the chance to visit some friends and family and have a nice dinner last night, so it’s been a great time. My mom (Sylvia) will be in the crowd tonight, too, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Crawford is hoping to use the emotional homecoming as motivation to avoid the longest losing streak of his career.
The 29-year-old is 0-3-2 with an inflated 3.05 goals-against average in his last six appearances, while backup Antti Raanta is unbeaten (6-0-2) in his last eight. It’s part and parcel of why the Blackhawks have been sputtering of late, but they have still managed to keep pace with the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues.
For the 29-8-9 Blackhawks, it’s the first time all year they’ve faced this kind of adversity.
Head coach Joel Quenneville has shuffled the line combinations in an effort to spark his team’s sputtering offensive production.
“Over the course of the season you want to try different things, especially when things haven't gone the way you'd like over a certain stretch of games,” Quenneville said. “You can usually generate some energy off it as well, so that’s what we’re looking for.”
Left wing Bryan Bickell and center Marcus Kruger have both been promoted and will skate alongside Patrick Kane on the second line. Brandon Saad, Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg will make up the third line, while Andrew Shaw, relegated to fourth-line duty, will play between Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith.
Shaw has recorded 11 goals and 21 points in 44 games this season, but has been struggling since the calendar turned. The 22-year-old is pointless in five games and has just one goal in his last 12 games, a power-play goal scored in a 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 28.
Shaw didn’t mince words when asked about his recent struggles.
“I’m not making any excuses, I need to be better,” he said. “I haven’t played with that aggressive, in-your-face, ratty style I’m known for these past few games, and that has to change. It’s up to me to turn it around and get back to my game.”
His coach agrees, but doesn’t believe the lack of intensity and tenacity is a problem exclusive to Shaw.
“Across the board we haven’t had enough,” Quenneville said. “That’s what makes a team successful, so by switching our lines and trying new things offensively, we’re hoping everyone responds.
“We’ve had a couple ordinary games lately, so we should be excited about playing this team, in this building and in this environment. It’s a big night for us.”