MONTREAL — Playing on the Blackhawks’ top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad can be a blessing or a curse for an unproven rookie like Dylan Sikura.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for the former sixth-round draft pick — playing with two established scorers who play solid two-way games. But the responsibility of producing in that prime spot against the top-notch defenders that line draws can be overwhelming.
“It definitely becomes a little bit more [pressure],” Sikura said. “I like it better. It suits may game better. It allows me to make more plays and play with the puck and play down in their end.
“But it can be nerve-wracking at times. It’s tough if you don’t make the right pass … you don’t want to be a hindrance or anyone unhappy with your play. But they’ve been awesome. They’re always talking on the bench throughout the game. Every face-off they’re letting me know what to do, where to go. For a young guy, that helps a lot.”
The 23-year-old Sikura, who was recalled from Rockford on Feb. 10, will play his fourth consecutive game with Toews and Saad on Saturday night against the Canadiens at Bell Centre.
The Hawks won the first three, including the 5-4 victory against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday when Sikura made his biggest contribution. He beat Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a puck along the boards behind the net and fed a wide-open Saad for a goal that gave the Hawks a 4-0 lead in the first period. Sikura had a plus-2 rating in 13:53 of ice time. He still had not scored a goal in 29 NHL games, but his contribution on the top line has been positive.
“I think he’s been pretty good overall,” Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “I thought [the Leafs game] was his best game. He was very active. He skated, did a tone of work, forechecking, was heavy on pucks. I told him, ‘You’ve got to find a minimum level that’s not too far away from that,’ and then he’s going to be a great asset for us.”
The Saad-Toews-Sikura line has combined for 470 regular-season NHL goals and Sikura is well aware of the breakdown: Toews 322, Saad 148 and Sikura 0. He’s looking forward to getting that first career NHL goal, and hopeful it will clear a path for many more.
“That’s what all the guys say — once you get that first one the floodgates open,” said Sikura, who had a team-high nine goals for Rockford when he was called up to the Hawks. “But it’s definitely pretty frustrating, because even when you’re playing good but not producing it kind of feels like you’re not doing as much.
“I think as long as you take care of the little things, that’s how you get those chances. That’s how you get down in the o-zone and create plays. Maybe one needs to just hit me to go in — just that little confidence that you know you can score and to get that — one off the back would be nice. But I can’t think about that too much.”
Crawford at home
Playing at home is still a big deal for Corey Crawford, who entered Saturday night’s game with a 4-0-2 record, .934 save percentage and 1.32 goals-against average in six games against the Canadiens at Bell Centre.
“Definitely,” Crawford said. “Family and friends. Growing up here. Being a big fan of the Canadiens when I was younger. It’s always fun coming back here.”
Koekkoek in, Dahlstrom out
Defenseman Slater Koekkoek replaced Carl Dahlstrom with Connor Murphy against the Canadiens. Koekkoek had been a healthy scratch the previous three games.
“Dahlstrom’s been really good — ‘last game [against the Leafs] maybe not as good,” Colliton said. “And it’s long enough [sitting out] for Koekkoek. He’s been really good for us. He also had a bit of a drop-off and now he’s had a few games to sit on it. I think he’ll respond. He’s going to give our lineup some energy — hopefully a high level.”