After getting their asses shellacked by a Vegas team that doesn’t even really have its shit together relative to how they played last year, the Hawks leave the frozen tundra of Chicago for…the frozen tundra of Winnipeg to face a Jets team with legit cup aspirations this year.
At present the Jets are only a spot ahead of the Blackhawks in the Central division, however with a gap of five points having played two fewer games. Most recently the Jets lost at home to a Penguins group that is in as much disarray as the Hawks are (ok, that might be a stretch), and haven’t beaten a quality opponent since the Capitals over two weeks ago. Beating the Canucks impresses nobody, and as fun as putting 8 up on the Blues was, including five from Patrik Laine alone, it’s not tall timber at this point.
The Jets are still getting plenty of scoring, with four players (Blake Wheeler, Laine, Kyle Connor, and Mark Scheifele) all right around the point per game mark. Wheeler in particular is third in the league with 25 assists to only four goals, but with the amount of looks he’ll get, they’ll surely follow soon. Aside from having tons of weapons in the top 6, the Jets also boast one of the most territorially dominant bottom 6 lines around in Mathieu Perrault, Adam Lowry, and Brandon Tanev. While their individual possession rates are dipping a bit this year due to bouncing around the lineup as a result of various injuries, this group can still tilt the ice as a collective, and is a very handy tool to have with last change at home.
On the blue line, the Jets will be without Joe Morrow and DAT BIG BUCK guy this evening, with Cam Schilling and Sami Niku dressing over Dimitry Kulikov, who every coach in the league seems to hate but GMs keep signing. In any event, the bottom two pairings for the Jets could look like anything, but Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba will still draw the top assignments. They’ll do so in front of Connor Hellebuyck, who has not dazzled coming of his first significant playoff run and a Vezina finalist campaign. His .907 overall and .909 at evens just simply isn’t going to cut it long term if the Jets hope to get out of the Western Conference playoffs. Given that this is uncharted territory for Hellebuyck, it remains to be seen if he can right the ship, but obviously he’s got the skill set to do so.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the season is rapidly circling the toilet unless some major systemic issues get corrected in a hurry. After Tuesday night’s trouncing, the forward lines got a minor shuffling with Brendan Perlini getting a shot with Toews and Saad, while the most intriguing combination of DeBrincat, Strome, and Garbage Dick remains in tact. Chris Kunitz rightfully remains in a suit, and Wide Dick Artie is at long last edging his way out of the lineup (and hopefully out of town) as he finds himself on a fourth line wing. At last glance it appears that Alexandre Fortin is on the outside looking in tonight in favor of whatever John Hayden and Andreas Martinsen offer against an incredibly fast and skilled Jets group, which makes total sense.
From the back end, things are still an abject mess for the Hawks, as Duncan Keith can’t or won’t dial his game back to match what his 35 year old body with a zillion miles on it is putting on display for everyone to see nightly. Until he gets it through his thick skull and red ass that he has to be the more conservative member of a given pairing, there’s no one in the league he’s playable with, let alone on this roster. And making tonight’s partner Gustav Forsling have to go into corners and chase down odd-men rushes with his Bambi legs against the collective load of ass the Jets boast at forward is going to end very badly. Likewise partnering the other half of the Geese, Erik Gustafsson with Henri Jokiharju is in all likelihood hurting the latter’s development, as it’s impossible to predict when Gustafsson is going to go full cowboy or get put in the blender, and putting Brandon Manning and Brent Seabrook together at this point feels like the Hawks are being coached by Ashton Kutcher. This will all take place in front of Corey Crawford, who hasn’t been nearly as good this week as he was in the week previous, even with the caveat that the defense in front of him eats a big plateful of shit.
The Jets are every bit as fast as the Knights are, and they have legit, all-world finish at multiple positions in their top six, so this game could get even more out of hand than things did on Tuesday. Go find a shelter-ini to take cover in.
Game #26 Preview Suite