At least we can quickly forget about the Chicago Blackhawks’ rough time in Nashville on Thursday night. Thankfully, the Blackhawks have less than 24 hours to erase that awful memory as they take on the Winnipeg Jets tonight at the United Center, a rematch of a game held five days ago at the same locale.
We do have some housekeeping to take care of before we get to the game preview, though. After spending the last few games in the press box, the Blackhawks have made the decision to send Marko Dano to Rockford. If Joel Quenneville wasn’t going to play Dano, it makes sense for him to go back to the AHL, so he can at least get some skating time and hopefully improve in various areas.
In his first call-up with the Blackhawks, Dano was utilized all over the lineup and infrequently, being a healthy scratch a number of times. He tallied a goal and an assist in 13 games while perhaps showing too much indecisiveness and not enough aggression for Q’s liking.
The Blackhawks won’t call up anyone in Dano’s place, opting to roll with their current lineup and Brandon Mashinter in the press box (along with David Rundblad, once Trevor Daley is healthy). Hopefully, Dano uses his up-and-down first run with the Blackhawks as motivation to get more pucks to the net and show more aggressiveness in Rockford. That will likely draw the eye of Q and Co. sooner rather than later.
Now, on to the preview for tonight. Like the Blackhawks, the Jets are also coming off a game less than 24 hours ago, as they outlasted Columbus at home and then had to travel to Chicago. So the Blackhawks aren’t at any significant disadvantage here as far as having or not having their legs under them. Of course, the Blackhawks only played about 25 minutes last night (minus Andrew Shaw and Scott Darling, and the latter won’t play tonight), so they should be fairly well rested.
The Jets will want revenge for the Blackhawks taking a 3-1 victory against them Sunday, and for Patrick Kane setting the team’s all-time consecutive games with a point mark against them as well. So even if they’re a little tired at the start, expect that to quickly fade in favor of their usual hard hitting and constant pressure on the puck carrier, led by Dustin Byfuglien, no doubt.
Let’s get to the projected lineups for both sides, starting with the Blackhawks.
David Rundblad-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford-Scott Darling
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Darling couldn’t withstand the utter lack of support provided by his teammates, as Crow could Tuesday. So now Crow gets to try again and hope for at least a little bit of help here and there. The Jets’ offensive attack isn’t quite as speedy or potent from the back end as the Preds’ is, but the Jets have a very strong top six that will make the Blackhawks pay if they continue to not play defense. Crow could have to stand on his head again for two Chicago points.
It sounds like Daley is still out for tonight, though he could return Sunday against Vancouver. That means at least one more night of Rundblad and Rozsival. Hey, at least most of you probably won’t have to work tomorrow, so you can drink heavily while trying to watch them play.
The forward lines could change after last night’s stinker, but with Dano’s demotion, we probably won’t see anyone taken out. There could just be more line juggling, which we’ve become accustomed to at this point. Panarin in particular seemed to be getting a Q lesson last night, getting held off the second line for some shifts and playing two fewer minutes than Anisimov. He played almost seven fewer minutes than Kane, but Kane played more minutes (22:35) than everyone else on both teams in last night’s game. That might be the point when you realize Q kind of gave up on the game after the first period and was just trying to keep Kane’s streak alive.
On to the Jets’ lineup.
Ben Chiarot-Dustin Byfuglien
Tobias Enstrom-Tyler Myers
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Hellebuyck won his fourth NHL start in four chances last night against Columbus, opening the door for Blackhawks killer Hutchinson to receive another shot at Chicago. Sunday’s loss for him was his first in regulation against the Blackhawks in his career, so look for him to try and emulate Crow in the latter’s last couple outings.
As mentioned above, this top six is very capable of stringing together multiple goals, while the third line has some playmakers as well. Thorburn had the only goal in Sunday’s game, though he didn’t even know he’d scored it (a video review was required). Byfuglien will likely seek out Bickell the first chance he gets, so we should all (not) look forward to that.
Let’s get to three Blackhawks to watch in a game that’s hopefully far more entertaining than last night’s affair.
Dec 10, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) works against Nashville Predators defensemanBarret Jackman
(5) during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Time to be the captain Blackhawks fans know you are, Toews. Last night’s game featured a lack of major effort from pretty much everyone. That’s always unacceptable, but in a game within the division, it’s inconceivable. And that starts at the top of the player chain, whether fair or not. As pointed out by The Committed Indian in its game wrap:
“Toews has one assist in seven games. He has seven points at even-strength this season. He was underwater in possession when adjusted for the score.”
These are not good things, especially from such a talented two-way player like Toews. Is he harboring an injury? Is he a little worn down from playing so many games in recent seasons? Is he just unlucky? Hard to say for sure, but if you categorize Toews as leading by example, he needs to produce quite a bit more, both offensively and defensively. This is another division game, and the Blackhawks will face the Colorado Avalanche soon for another Central tilt. The Dallas Stars are also looming. On the second end of a back-to-back, it’d be great to see Toews step up and give this team a kick in the rear.
Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) celebrates with right wing Patrick Kane (88) after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period at United Center. The Blackhawks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
As I mentioned above, Panarin received a somewhat-benching during last night’s game, mostly in the second period. While it could have been a minor injury thing, there was nothing to suggest that was the case. Panarin has had a tough go of it lately, pretty much riding the success of Kane to a lot of his recent points. Panarin is still learning some facets of the North American game, but he’s a crazy talented player with at least a decent hockey IQ. His decision making on both ends of the ice needs to start improving, and he needs to get the puck to the net more versus passing up those chances. If there’s a clear lane for an easy Kane attempt, that’s one thing, but if you’re just trying to be fancy — something Panarin has been guilty of — it’s not acceptable, especially for a team that is struggling to score consistently. If Panarin doesn’t get into gear soon, we could see the breakup of the second line.
Dec 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Nashville Predators defensemanShea Weber
(6) defends Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) during the third period at the United Center. The Hawks won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor van Riemsdyk
TVR is officially in full-on struggle mode, although you probably could have said that for a while now. He and Seabrook are just unable to turn the puck the right way, and a good part of it has to do with TVR being slow to make decisions, then making poor decisions and being unable to correct them. Some of this has to do with youth, some of it with a relative lack of speed. You thought having him play alongside a veteran in Seabrook might be of some benefit as far as the learning game goes, but that just hasn’t transpired. In a more-perfect world, TVR slots in on the third pairing, but for now he’s stuck on the second. So like Panarin, he needs to get his game in gear, and quickly. I have a hard time believing he doesn’t have a better side to show than what he’s put on display this season. The Jets will pressure him plenty tonight, so it’d be a great time for TVR to show he has some better decision-making abilities at his disposal.