FACEOFF: 6:30pm Central
TV/RADIO: WGN, City (whatever that is) Up There, WGN Radio 720
JETSETTER MUSIC LETTER: Arctic Ice Hockey
We’re all a little weary of the Hawks embarking on a new dawn, or in need of a wakeup call, or promising that this time they mean it. It’s all coming out again this morning, but this time it’s real, right? It had better be, because the Hawks schedule combined with the fact they now sit in 4th in the division requires all systems to be operational. We’ll pardon you if you choose to watch Wrestlemania instead.
The Jets have been obtuse enough for the Hawks this year without all the other spices this one carries. Throw in the fact the Jets are a week to 10 days from clinching their first playoff berth since being reborn, and the MTS Centre tonight is going to look like Muskogee on a Saturday night on a payday weekend. The Jets sit three points up on the Flames for the last wild card spot, though they won’t get the tiebreaker. They don’t have to ace these last two weeks, but they can’t just play out the string either. The schedule isn’t all that kind to Winnipeg either, with the Rangers and the Canucks following the Hawks into Manitoba before they have to hit the road to see the Blues, Wild, and Avs before the last game of the year against Calgary at home, which they’ll probably pray doesn’t actually matter. They also are only four points behind the Hawks, in case the Hawks think they’re safe.
The narrative on the Jets lately has kind of flipped from earlier in the season. Where it was new sensation Michael Hutchinson backstopping the them earlier in the year as they solidified their playoff position, he’s faded badly in March and wasn’t that better in February. Perhaps it was actually the threat of losing his job for the first time or the whiff of actual playoff hockey or the combination thereof, but Ondrej Pavelec has finally played lately like the goalie Jets fans had deluded themselves into thinking he was all along.
Pavelec hasn’t given up more than two goals in a game since February 19th. In eight March appearances, he’s gone 6-1-0 with a .963 SV% and a 1.15 GAA. It’s seen the Jets win six of the last seven.
They’re also scoring at the other, which has seen them win the last four by a combined 17-5. They’ve done it without Bryan Little who got hurt in the first week of March. In his place Mark Scheifele has freaked the fuck off, with 10 points in 10 games since Little went down. Drew Stafford has taken to life in the Peg as well with six points in his last five games and 7-9-16 in his 19 games as a Jet. Other acquisition Tyler Myers has also been excellent since arriving.
While they may not have any frontline stars, the Jets are sneaky deep team. Even without Little and Kane, Ladd and Frolik on the top line get things done, and that’s followed by Wheeler and Stafford on the 2nd line. The bottom six could use some help, with Rocksteady and Bebop impersonators like Chris Thorburn and Jim Slater slinking around. But they’ve given the Hawks problems in all four games this season.
No help to be found on defense, though Jacob Trouba one day could be described as a frontline star. The Jets have copied the Hawks’ model of yin and yang on all their pairings, one rusher and one centerfielder supporting him. Trouba and Stuart, Buff and Pardy, Myers and Enstrom on the top pairing.
The Jets come with something the Hawks just can’t handle, and that’s size. And it’s mobile size. The Jets have gotten the game along the walls and behind the net, and the Hawks just aren’t going to win that type of game. Still, the last visit there saw the Hawks play one of their better defensive games in 2015, pulling out a 2-1 win in OT thanks to Brandon Saad. Corey Crawford gets the start tonight, and his teammates owe him an apology in the form of a very supportive performance after hanging him out to dry on Friday.
If the Hawks are serious about finally tuning up before the playoffs, then simple simple simple is the order of the night. The Jets aren’t going to provide a lot of space out there so Allman Bros. guitar solos at either blue line are of no use. Trying to dangle guys in the defensive zone also must be avoided. Without Little, the Jets aren’t all that creative, just a very destructive blunt object. Limit the turnovers, try and snap off their possessions before they get a cycle going, and you can limit their offense. Saying it and doing it are two different things.
You still have to solve Pavelec, perhaps the hottest goalie in the league right now. But this is still Ondrej Pavelec. He’s gotta prove he’s something else for more than a month.
It’s NOW, now. The Hawks had better act like it.