Usually, a non-playoff team coming to town would be good news, but that isn’t the case for the Chicago Blackhawks tonight
Every season under coach Joel Quenneville, it seems the Chicago Blackhawks have serious trouble with at least one in-division team. We’ve seen it most recently with the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche despite them just being so-so outfits.
This season, that distinction rests with the Winnipeg Jets, who are pushing themselves closer and closer to falling out of playoff contention with each passing game. But the Jets have found a way to not only defeat the Blackhawks three times this season, but dominate them in the process.
Chicago has tallied a whopping two goals in three games against the Jets this season, allowing nine goals in the process. And two of those games were at the United Center.
So, coming off a 5-2 loss against Tampa Bay in which the Blackhawks lost in regulation after entering the third period with a lead for the first time since 2014, I’m sorry if I’m not exuding confidence. But I’ll find some reasons for fans to feel at least decent about the Blackhawks’ chances tonight.
We actually have bona fide lineups from beat writers on both teams today. Hooray! Let’s start with the Blackhawks:
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So let’s start with the obvious difference here from previous lineups: Kruger has returned from injury. He was questionable to roll Tuesday against Tampa Bay, but the Blackhawks decided to give him one more game off.
Tonight, he gets to line up between Schmaltz and Hossa, which is a really interesting combination. It has suppression and possession ability along with some offensive drive. Don’t be surprised, though, if Hinostroza winds up on that line if Q doesn’t feel he’s getting enough from Schmaltz.
Dennis Rasmussen falls out of the lineup in favor of Desjardins. I doubt this has to deal with the illness Rasmussen was dealing with two nights ago, but is more so Q seeing what he can do with the bottom six now that Kruger is back.
The defensive pairings stay the same, for better or worse. Michal Rozsival has been “banged up,” according to Q, so he needs a little downtime. Good thing there’s a break coming up.
Darling gets the call tonight, as Q said he would Wednesday. Maybe the Blackhawks will step up their game against the Jets while playing in front of their backup goaltender.
Let’s move on now to the Jets:
Tobias Enstrom-Jacob Trouba
The top six is obviously a solid group that needs to be closely guarded. The Jets are missing Mathieu Perreault due to injury, so it’s not as good of a top six as it could be. But giving Scheifele, Ehlers and Laine any time and space would be a grievous mistake.
The bottom six is short former Blackhawk Marko Dano due to injury. There are far fewer threats here, but the Blackhawks seem to let guys like Matthias, Armia and Petan have a little too much fun around Crow or Darling.
The defense is short a man as well, missing Tyler Myers due to injury. It’s a big group with some big shots, so staying out of the box and preventing point blasts whenever Winnipeg does get a man-advantage will both be important for Chicago.
I don’t need to tell you why Hellebuyck is starting despite Pavelec getting more of the work lately after his recall. The guy’s last action came 13 days ago, and his .907/2.82 statline is far from impressive. But his ridiculous three wins with a .977/0.67 statline against Chicago this season makes him a must-start for the Jets.
The Blackhawks really just need to stick to the process and keep firing the puck at Hellebuyck. They’ve averaged just over 29 shots per game against him this season, which isn’t particularly bad. But it’s clearly not enough. Less passing and more firing and charging at the net to create pressure and force/mop up rebounds.
TV listings and prediction
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WGN 720-AM
Live streaming: CSN Chicago Live
Radio streaming: WGN Radio App
Prediction: My tendency in situations like this is to go with the hot hand until it proves to cool off. So with that theory in hand, I should really pick the Jets to win this game.
But I just have a hard time believing the Blackhawks can be stymied three straight times at home by a Winnipeg team that has some good forward pieces but a ton of holes behind that. Hellebuyck clearly isn’t a word beater, he just has confidence against the Blackhawks. And why shouldn’t he?
I think the Blackhawks will be sufficiently annoyed following the Tampa Bay result. I think they’ll pot a goal within the first 3-5 minutes of the game to shake Hellebuyck a bit, and while it won’t result in any sort of rout, I think the Blackhawks will finally top the Jets.
I’ll say 3-2 Chicago, with goals from Kane, Anisimov and Schmaltz. The second line has been in a bit of a collective slumber of late, so I feel a bit of a breakout coming tonight. And while I’m not sure the Blackhawks will be able to prevent Darling from seeing upwards of 30 shots, I think he’ll come up with enough stops.