OK, I’m sure Winnipeg isn’t that cold or that desolate (though its projected high temperature today was just 41 degrees, Winnipeg is home to nearly 664,000 people). But it’s all the way up in Canada, so I’m legally obligated to say it’s cold and desolate. The Chicago Blackhawks will try to stay hot when they visit the Manitoba city tonight for the first half of a back-to-back and the first of four consecutive games against Western Conference opponents.
Winnipeg is coming off a 4-1 loss at home against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday but is still just a point behind the Blackhawks in a crowded Central Division. These two teams had a very odd season series last year, as the Jets won all three games at the United Center while the Blackhawks won a pair of games at the MTS Centre. One thing is certain when these two teams meet, though: You can expect physicality and intensity in droves.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have somewhat quietly racked up four consecutive wins, sweeping a stretched-out four-game homestand. They’re coming off back-to-back 1-0 overtime wins, with Jonathan Toews scoring the game-winning goal in both contests.
So, let’s get to the meat of the matchup, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. First, your projected Chicago Blackhawks lines, pairings and goaltender:
It appears Kero will slot in where recent demotee Vincent Hinostroza was playing, at third-line center between Teuvo and Garbutt. Kero had gotten off to a blazing-hot start with the Rockford IceHogs this season, and with the Blackhawks struggling to dent the twine — their last regulation goal was 17 seconds into the third period a week ago against Florida — the call was made to use a bit of youth to help spark the offense. Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but hopefully Kero fares well in his first big-league action.
Crawford, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus, will get the call in goal tonight. Darling will likely start the second half of the back-to-back, tomorrow in Minnesota.
Now on to the Jets, and we’re going off the lineup they iced Tuesday against the Kings.
Tobias Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien
Pavelec is reportedly going to start in goal tonight for the Jets, according to NHL.com. The rest of the lineup is certainly subject to change. As I mentioned in my weekly lookahead Tuesday, Winnipeg is getting some scoring from parts of each of its first three lines, but it doesn’t have a singular line that’s lighting the world on fire at this point (though that second line makes me want to light my keyboard on fire … I feel so sorry for all the Jets beat writers).
Winnipeg gets most of its scoring from the forwards, with Byfuglien leading Jets defensemen in points with five through nine games. But the story about the Jets doesn’t really revolve around scoring: It revolves around beating down other teams until they can’t answer the bell anymore (also known as the Ryan Kesler Treatment). Bodies will be flying in this game, and that’s where the Blackhawks’ speed and on-ice smarts come heavily into play. If Chicago can avoid the big hits and keep Winnipeg players out of position, all they need to do after that is beat a suspect defense and even more suspect goaltending. Sounds like a decent antidote for a scoring drought.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at three Blackhawks to watch in tonight’s tilt.
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This is sort of by default, just like with Hinostroza in his first start a little ways back. Kero should not be expected to come in and save the Blackhawks’ offense single-handedly, by any means. Sure, he could be the guy who breaks the regulation-time scoreless drought and gets all the Blackhawks loosened up again on offense, but we also shouldn’t expect that. Still, Kero has a chance to make things happen in his first NHL game. He’s paired with a capable and shifty playmaker in Teuvo and a guy who has been shooting the puck a lot in Garbutt. It’s not the biggest line, but its speed and hockey IQ, paired with Winnipeg likely focusing on shutting down the Blackhawks’ top two lines, means it has a chance to rack up a goal or two. That starts with Kero, who will take the draws and get plays moving in the right direction. If he just stays within himself and plays a smart game on both sides of the ice, he should do fine. Good luck, kid.
Oct 26, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) looks for the puck in front of Anaheim Ducks goalieFrederik Andersen
(31) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
We’re at Game 10 of the season and Toews still doesn’t have a 5-on-5 goal. The Blackhawks’ top line has obviously been a concern early on, with the left-wing spot entirely unsettled, and Toews and Hossa seem to be suffering ill effects from the constant switcheroo. Toews has just five points so far while Hossa has four, including only one goal. But we put the spotlight on Toews because he’s the team captain and the guy who is expected to set the tone for the Blackhawks. Offensively, he kind of has through the first nine games, but that isn’t always a good thing. That needs to change sooner rather than later, and against a conference foe would be a good place to start. Toews has not surprisingly dominated the open ice in 3-on-3 overtime hockey, but he’s been shut down with some regularity in 5-on-5 play. Returning to his hometown tonight may be a fix for that, and once Toews gets started, it’s hard to slow him down.
Oct 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wingNick Foligno
(71) and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor Daley (6) fight for the puck in front of goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Daley’s start with the Blackhawks has been … forgettable, in the simplest of terms. Coming off a career year offensively, Daley just hasn’t fit in on Chicago’s blue line in the early going, and now he’s seeing third-pairing time with Rundblad. Daley was expected to be the fourth defenseman for the Blackhawks this season, and with Duncan Keith sidelined, it could have meant Daley would take an increased role. But now he’s been relegated to situations where Joel Quenneville feels comfortable that Daley and Rundblad can’t get play turned against them. While it would of course be nice if Daley could put up more than the one point he’s managed thus far, his first job is to defend and defend well. Winnipeg can be a tough team to defend because of its size, and the Central Division has some of the toughest players to defend against in the league. With the division schedule starting tonight for the Blackhawks, it’s a good chance to see if Daley can hack it. Sure, he played in Dallas and thus the Central prior to this season, but Dallas’ blue line was a hot mess while Daley was there. The standards were pretty low. Things are different in Chicago, and Daley is going to need to get his act together fast.
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