The Chicago Blackhawks found another gear Thursday against a Central Division rival, the Winnipeg Jets, and created a 5-1 road victory to run their win streak to four games
You could be forgiven for not being inspired by the Chicago Blackhawks’ three-game win streak against three mediocre teams entering tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets. Two overtime wins and a two-goal win against the likes of Arizona, Buffalo and Florida is kind of a rough “make-up” for a five-game losing streak.
So when the Blackhawks went into Winnipeg tonight for the season’s first game against the surprising Jets, there was probably some concern among the fans of a reversal on the ice. The Jets have been good at most everything that gives the Blackhawks trouble, and Jan Rutta‘s absence from the lineup meant both Jordan Oesterle and Michal Kempny would be suiting up.
Well, that worked. Pretty much everything (except the powerplay) worked for the Blackhawks, as they leaped out to a three-goal first-period lead and never looked back in a 5-1 victory over the Jets. Winnipeg was missing Dustin Byfuglien on the back end due to injury, but this was still a really solid win for Chicago.
The Blackhawks needed this win not only for their confidence, but also to keep pace in the growing muck that is not only the wild-card picture, but also the Central Division picture. The Blackhawks are tied with Minnesota and Dallas at 37 points, though Minnesota has a game in hand. But the Wild also have 15 regulation/overtime wins to the Stars’ and Blackhawks’ 16.
All three squads are suddenly just four points behind Winnipeg for third in the Central as well, and all three are on win streaks — Chicago and Minnesota at four apiece, and Dallas at two. This isn’t even considering 35-point Calgary and Anaheim, nor 37-point San Jose at third in the Pacific Division.
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Anyway, let’s get back to this win and five thoughts from it.
It’s nice to not have it just be the top six producing points. I’m not sure when Tommy Wingels decided to find his scoring pants, but I’m not going to complain about it. He has three goals this month, all coming in the last four games. He was somehow left roving in the slot and beat Connor Hellebuyck with a nice, quick shot.
Vinnie Hinostroza wired home a one-timer off a Patrick Sharp pass for the former’s first goal since his call-up. Though Ryan Hartman won’t get an assist on paper, he should get one in your hearts, as he harassed Tyler Myers long enough for Sharp to pick his pocket and set up Hinostroza.
And Kempny netted his first of the season, finally breaking out of press box hell and just obliterating a puck off the post and past Hellebuyck shortside. You know he had to be thrilled with that. And I’d be thrilled, if I were coach Joel Quenneville, about some new blood scoring.
Do not bust up the talent
Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz should probably keep playing together. That’s just a thought. While we all wish Schmaltz would shoot the puck more, if he’s going to feed Kane in the ridiculous manner he did tonight, some leniency will be provided.
The reason social media is exploding about this play is that it’s something Kane would probably do. And Schmaltz achieved it … on a play that allowed Kane to score. Kane seemed to recognize this as well; you can see it on his face and he seeks out Schmaltz afterward.
Da Windy City
Just a brilliant no-look maneuver that showed some serious on-ice vision and confidence. The former has never been lacking for Schmaltz, but the latter could always use a kick.
Of course, one play doesn’t make a good combo. But these two have just made things work since being grouped together. There’s no reason to break that momentum.
One issue the Blackhawks have had this season is putting way too many shots out from low-danger areas. Interestingly, three of their tallies tonight were produced above the circles.
Duncan Keith‘s shot from near the point was redirected by Schmaltz in front, so that play obviously started close to the blue line. Kempny’s shot came as he was streaking down the side to Hellebuyck’s right, not yet below the circles. And Hinostroza’s laser took off above the circles as well.
On Kempny and Hinostroza’s goals, though, they had the power of surprise and being open to shoot. There was no pressure, and there wasn’t a ton of expectation. That makes such shots much more likely to be effective. Keith’s shot was more of the same for him and the Blackhawks, but it happened to get through traffic the right way.
The defensive times kind of look like those of the old days, as only Keith (23:38) and Brent Seabrook (20:55) were over 20 minutes. But at least things were relatively balanced anyway.
Connor Murphy recorded 18:28, Kempny was at 16:30, Gustav Forsling was at 18:31 and Oesterle sat at 19:44. I don’t really make a whole lot out of these times given the Blackhawks were ahead big throughout and the Jets were chasing. But it’s nice to know Q isn’t rolling out Keith and Seabrook 26 minutes apiece because DIVISION GAME, even when the team is up three.
I know Lance Bouma helped on Wingels’ goal, but wasn’t his one positive attribute coming in being able to kill penalties? The Jets had just two tonight, but Bouma somehow saw no PK time.
Bouma has seemingly been replaced by John Hayden on the PK. One has to believe Bouma has a pretty short shelf life in the regular lineup if this is the case. He’s not bringing much, and I’d rather see a fired-up Richard Panik post-benching than watch Bouma mostly float around. For the record, Panik has 14 points despite doing mostly nothing for a while; Bouma has just eight.
The Blackhawks’ string of important divisional games continues Sunday when Minnesota comes to the United Center. The Blackhawks then get one of those joyous three-day breaks (though I’m sure they appreciate it) before visiting Dallas in the middle of next week.