Last night went according to plan for the Chicago Blackhawks … for about eight game minutes. After Patrick Kane scored on a powerplay less than two minutes into Thursday’s tilt against the Winnipeg Jets, the Blackhawks were unable to shut down the Jets’ top-six forwards as they helped the home team pull away with a 3-1 win. Though the Blackhawks outshot the Jets 46-31 and won the Corsi-for battle 70-51, the Jets found just enough ways to beat Corey Crawford while Jets backup (maybe not for long) Michael Hutchinson stood on his head for his fourth career win versus Chicago against no losses.
Thankfully, the Blackhawks have a chance to quickly move on from the loss and run their record to five wins in their last six games when they face the Minnesota Wild tonight at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild picked up a 4-3 home win against Edmonton on Tuesday to move their record to 6-2-1 on the season, including a perfect 4-0-0 at home.
Now, I know my projected lines, defensive pairings and goaltenders have been off of late, thanks in no small part to misinformation that can be easily found on the Internet (they’re allowed to lie here?). But I still feel obligated to tell you what you should expect to see on the ice for both teams. Even I can’t predict when Joel Quenneville thinks Bryan Bickell is a better starting option than Teuvo Teravainen.
This time, however, I’m going to go with the group I think Joel Quenneville will ice tonight against Minnesota instead of the lines from last night. Since the Blackhawks played Thursday and traveled after the game, there was obviously no morning skate today, so we have nothing to go off. Here goes nothing!
Darling starting is pretty much a certainty on the second half of a back-to-back, but the rest of the lineup is uncertain. On offense, I think Q will continue pushing buttons to try and make something happen. Viktor Tikhonov may get a rest in favor of getting a dynamic playmaker in Teuvo on the top line in an effort to make it offensively productive. I only have Ryan Garbutt coming out of the lineup, instead of Bickell, because Hartman is naturally a right wing while Bickell is naturally a left wing. Plus, Kero and Hartman should have some semblance of chemistry. Perhaps they can drag Bickell along for the ride.
On defense, I think David Rundblad gets a night off to give Gustafsson a shot on the back end. It can’t be any more dangerous than having Rundblad back there. I think the play last night that saw Rundblad’s 10-point turn in the offensive zone, which led to him falling and not getting anything close to a shot off, might have been the final straw for Q. I’m sure he can’t wait for Michal Rozsival to return (and Duncan Keith, of course).
For the Wild, these were the most-recent lines they utilized:
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Dubnyk is reportedly getting the call tonight, which surprises me since the Wild travel to St. Louis for a game tomorrow. But the Blackhawks will apparently see the best Minnesota has to offer, which hasn’t been great so far with a .905 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against average. But the Wild offense is currently clicking, so Dubnyk has managed a 6-2-0 mark.
The forwards and defensemen are mostly familiar faces from the 2015 postseason meeting. Porter took a trip within the Central in moving from St. Louis to Minnesota in the offseason, and Carter has apparently been in the NHL since the 2007-08 season. The rest of the cast is known, but it’s performing at a much better clip than it previously has, keeping pace well in the loaded Central Division.
So, let’s get to the three Blackhawks to watch. Again, I’m going off my projected lineup, so some of these guys may not end up skating tonight. We’ll see.
Feb 18, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Red Wings goalieJimmy Howard
(35) is showered with spray from Chicago Blackhawks right wingRyan Hartman
(38) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
I do think Hartman will get the nod tonight in some way, and it’d make a lot of sense to put him alongside AHL buddy Kero. Hartman made a huge impact — literally — on his first NHL shift when he was up with the Blackhawks in 2014-15, laying out New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus with a body check. Hartman didn’t do much else in his five games with the team, but we know he has a nose for the net and plays bigger than he looks. If he gets an opportunity tonight and sticks with that style of play, he and Kero (and Bickell, on my projected line) could make magic and get the Blackhawks’ bottom six off the schnide. It’d be a welcome sight for Q and Co.
Oct 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wingMarian Hossa
(81) is congratulated for scoring a goal during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center. Chicago won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Hossa had some of the best chances last night against Hutchinson in Winnipeg, but the goaltender was up to the task each time against the sure-fire Hall of Famer. Hossa has gotten off to a slow start offensively, tallying just a goal and three assists through 10 games. But we know how it can go with Hossa — when he’s cold, he can be really cold, and when he’s hot, the goals don’t stop. After being shut down by a backup a few times last night, expect Hossa to come out extra motivated while trying to shoot the puck through Dubnyk. If Hossa and Toews line up alongside Teuvo, things could get dicey for the Wild goaltender.
Again, if he plays, which I’m less confident about with Gustafsson than I am with Hartman. Gustafsson won’t be around the club for long, barring another defensive injury, as Rozsival is nearing his return. Or maybe Gustafsson, if given the chance, can play his way into staying with the Blackhawks. It’s no secret Q isn’t terribly fond of Rundblad, and Rundblad hasn’t given his coach much reason for fondness. If Gustafsson gets the chance to play tonight and turns in a solid performance — he doesn’t even have to score, he just has to be better than Rundblad — then perhaps Rundblad could be the one riding the bus to Rockford when Rozsival is healthy. It’d certainly be an interesting scenario, but it only plays out if Gustafsson gets the call tonight.