Chicago Blackhawks’ Eye On The Enemy Searches For Win Vs. Jets

Dec 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) shoots and scores a goal on Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) shoots and scores a goal on Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Another day, another Central Division matchup between two familiar foes, this time the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets

After squandering a 2-1 lead in the third period to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks will look to take out frustration on the struggling Winnipeg Jets. The 5-2 loss to the Lightning was rather significant as it snapped the Blackhawks’ 78-0-5 record dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season for having no losses in regulation while leading after two periods.

It’s certainly a tough pill to swallow, but now it’s time to regroup and focus on the remaining schedule, and quite possibly, establish some sort of new streak. It’s only January, people. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played!

The Winnipeg Jets currently find themselves chasing the rest of the pack in the Central Division, excluding Colorado. This is a team that has a good amount of talent and has had the Chicago Blackhawks’ number as of late.

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The Winnipeg Jets are our area of focus for this week’s “Eye on the Enemy.” So let’s jump right into an overview of the Jets and the matchup ahead with our Chicago Blackhawks.

Winnipeg’s strengths

Although the Jets find themselves on a two-game losing streak, there are a few takeaways in the midst of their struggles. It’s been a rough season for Winnipeg but the offense has certainly bailed out the team in quite a few games.

With 143 goals scored, the Jets currently rank seventh in the league for said category. The Jets also rank 11th in the league in goals scored per game with a 2.80 average. Not too shabby for a team rather far from contention.

The Winnipeg Jets currently have five players with 30 or more points, with Mark Scheifele leading the way by tallying 46 points so far (21 goals, 25 assists). Scheifele is well on pace to crack his career high of 61 points scored with the Jets last season in 71 games.

Patrik Laine made his way back onto the ice Tuesday against the Sharks. This was the rookie’s first game since January 7 against the Buffalo Sabres where he suffered a concussion on a huge hit delivered by Jake McCabe.

The young superstar has definitely lived up to the second-overall draft pick hype he brought to the Jets. The Blackhawks will get another look at the rookie sensation from Finland, and will definitely have their hands full.

The Winnipeg Jets have size, speed, puck-moving ability and plenty of talent. However, the team has had its fair share of problems on the other end.

Winnipeg’s weaknesses

Goaltending has been a nightmare for the Jets this season. There has simply been no answers in the crease, which goes to show just how crucial having a decent goalie is in the NHL.

The Winnipeg Jets rank dead last in total goals allowed this season (157) and rank 25th in GAA (3.08). In other words, Winnipeg is pretty awful in its own end and most especially in net.

The team began the year rotating young goaltenders, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, but the combination was simply not up to par. The Jets recalled a familiar face in Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL in hopes of a miracle fix. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, this solved nothing and the Jets remain in the same miserable position.

The Jets remain a physical force with Adam Lowry and Dustin Byfuglien leading the team in hits   with 124 and 122. However, it’s just not cutting it with the inability to cut down opponents’ shot production. I would say this could play into the Blackhawks’ favor, but the ‘Hawks have been the exception here as they’ve yet to continually figure out Winnipeg’s goaltenders and defensemen.

Blackhawks and Jets matchup

Coach Joel Quenneville confirmed Wednesday that backup goaltender Scott Darling will get the start in net for the Blackhawks due to Corey Crawford‘s recent struggles.

Darling’s last outing resulted in a 30-save shutout over the Boston Bruins, which definitely earned the 28-year-old some confidence from Coach Q. Look for Winnipeg to come out flying in this one in hopes of cracking this slump.

Jonathan Toews will look to continue his recent surge against his hometown team in Winnipeg. His continuous improvement on what had been a rough start on the year will be the key to success for the Chicago Blackhawks in this one. Depth has been the key to the Blackhawks’ success in recent years, and since Toews’ reemergence, the ‘Hawks have looked like more than just a one-line team again.

After nearly sweeping the Jets during last year’s season series, the ‘Hawks have yet to put together a win against their divisional opponent this year. As previously stated, the Blackhawks have been the exception to Winnipeg’s horrid goaltending. Chicago has amassed just two goals in the previous three meetings with the Jets, including a terrible 4-0 shutout.

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The key to a Chicago victory in this one will be a strong game in net from Darling and obviously solving the ‘Hawks’ kryptonite, which has been Jets’ goalies. If the Blackhawks can finally figure out and capitalize on the Jets’ struggling goaltenders, this could end up being an easy victory. Prediction: Blackhawks 4, Jets 2.