Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks Week Ahead: Central Back-To-Back

By Colin Likas
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Oct 25, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets goalie

Michael Hutchinson

(34) during the third period against the Minnesota Wild at MTS Centre. Winnipeg Jets win 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg Jets: Thursday, 7 p.m. (CSN Chicago)

Ah, our old Canadian enemy. The Blackhawks and Jets had a very chippy series last year, led in no small part by former Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien. The Jets defeated the Blackhawks in the United Center three times in 2014-15, while the Blackhawks returned the favor to the Jets twice at MTS Centre (that’s Canadian for Center). And with these teams separated by just a point right now and Winnipeg looking to show it should be feared in the vaunted Central, we shouldn’t expect the intensity to die out this season.

Blake Wheeler is currently the star of the show up in Manitoba, most-recently playing right wing alongside Bryan Little and another former Blackhawk in team captain Andrew Ladd. Wheeler is the only Jet in double figures for points so far with four goals and seven assists in eight outings. Little has seven points and Ladd six, while the Jets are also receiving regular contributions from the second line (Mathieu Perreault, seven points; Mark Scheifele, six points) and third line (Drew Stafford, seven points). The blue line is so-so, with Tobias Enstrom being the future star and Byfuglien being the crowd favorite right now. Tyler Myers can help out offensively, and Jacob Trouba could be very good in coming years.

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But behind all of that has been the issue in recent years. Ondrej Pavelec has historically been a poor goaltender for the Jets, at least up until last season. Michael Hutchinson challenged for the starting job, and it seemed to push Pavelec to greater heights. Now Pavelec has earned the starting job back, though his stats this season (2-2-1, .916 save percentage, 2.82 goals-allowed average) leave plenty to be desired, especially compared to those of Hutchinson (3-0-0, .935, 2.00).

The Jets will take on the Los Angeles Kings tonight, but they should still come out firing Thursday against the rested Blackhawks and looking to smash anything in an Indian Head against a pane of glass. It is their calling card, after all.

Oct 25, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Minnesota Wild right wing

Justin Fontaine

(14) celebrates with Minnesota Wild center

Charlie Coyle

(3) after he scores during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild: Friday, 7 p.m. (CSN Chicago)

You want to talk about a team that would like to get a win against the Blackhawks, how about these guys? They’ve seen their last three seasons end at the hands of the defending Cup champions, and they were swept out of the playoffs by them earlier this year. Seems like fair motivation.

The story for the Wild starts and ends with their goaltending, which was an abomination until Devan Dubnyk showed up last January. He received a massive contract after the playoffs as a reward for single-handedly pushing the team into the postseason, but now he’s “the guy” in Minnehaha. His response has been so-so through six starts, posting a fine 5-2-0 record but a less-fine .909 save percentage and 2.27 goals-allowed average. So there’s work to be done back there, but Minnesota’s defense is solid enough to bail Dubnyk out in many situations.

As he should, Zach Parise leads the offensive charge for the Wild with nine points through eight games. His most-recent linemates, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville, have combined for just 10 points, however. Jason Zucker is a long-term terror in the Central, Mikko Koivu has seven points but could retire any day now, and the bottom six can still be a huge source of frustration for opponents (paging Erik Haula, circa 2014). The blue line, as mentioned, has fine pieces in iron man Ryan Suter, diminutive Jared Spurgeon and young-but-promising Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba.

The Wild host the Oilers tonight, so they should be two points richer by the time the Blackhawks come to town Friday.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks can get two wins later this week, but one would be a nice alternative. One win and one overtime/shootout loss would be great, too. But two victories should be the goal. The Blackhawks have opened with a 1-2-0 road mark, and they’ll look to improve on that in hostile environments against teams that want to not just beat, but also destroy them. Should be fun. Or terrifying. Or both.

Next: Blackhawks Assign Hinostroza To Rockford

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