Hockey

Game #36 – Hawks vs. Jets Preview: The Ramblin’ Wreck

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 13-16-6   Jets 20-12-2

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

YOUR TAUNTAUN WILL FREEZE TO DEATH: Jetsnation.ca

The last thing a team in turmoil in the dressing room and playing like shit needs is three games in four nights. Even worse, it needs even less those three games to be against teams at the top of the division. And we’re not done, as the last two of the troika are on the road, with the last at altitude. It’s Wiggum into the hot dog machine, folks…

To be fair, the Jets aren’t that close to the Blues or Avs. They’re just a hell of a lot closer than the Hawks are, and currently hold the last automatic spot in the Central. They only have that though with a tiebreaker over the Stars, and should the Stars catch them the Jets will be in the muck as much as anyone else hovering around the wildcard spots.

So how did the Jets get here? You’d probably naturally conclude they shot their way to 42 points, but you’d be wrong. It’s hard to fathom with all the firepower the Jets have in their top six that they’re a middling 16th in goals per game, but that’s the case. They can’t figure now if Patrik Laine’s first two years are actually the outlier and now he’s just a slightly plus-sniper, but moving to the top line hasn’t shown him to be the 50-goal scorer he once flashed. Blake Wheeler has moved to the second line and while he’s producing alongside Nikolaj Ehlers, they haven’t quite brought Jack Roslovic along for the ride.

Injuries up front haven’t helped. Bryan Little is taking his customary few weeks off with some ailment or something falling off of him. Mathieu Perreault got hurt recently, and Andrew Copp left Tuesday’s game and will miss out tonight. That’s eroded what used to be one of the best third lines in the league with Adam Lowry, who will have some strangers around him tonight.

The Jets have kept their goals against down, but that’s mostly due to the brilliance of Connor Hellebuyck. He’s currently third in the league in overall SV% behind Bishop and Kuemper, and the Jets have the sixth best SV% at evens. And they need it, because this is a woeful defensive team. The departure of Jacob Trouba and the sojourn of Dustin Byfuglien (somehow) has destroyed the blue line, as the Jets have the third-worst expected GA in the league. They’re right behind the Hawks. And the thing is they’re decent enough at limiting attempts. They just can’t do much about those attempts being prime chances far too often. Strangely, Tucker Poolman didn’t save the day. I know, right?

The Jets power play hasn’t really fired yet, but you’d have to expect a binge sometime given all that is has on it.  It lacks a true QB without Byfuglien, even though that’s a very weird sentence. With that and the play of Hellebuyck, you’d have to guess the Jets will find themselves in the playoffs again. And Paul Maurice will still hang onto his job, even though that defies explanation and the team quit on him last year.

For the Hawks, it’s hard to imagine they’ll scratch Seabrook a second night in a row, given that Keith and Toews were already moaning about it yesterday. Given the size the Jets still have, wouldn’t be a shock of Colliton uses that as an excuse to sit Boqvist and keep Gilbert in the lineup, even though the Jets are going to go right around him the way the Avs did. Robin Lehner rotates in. Perhaps Sikura could get a look now that Highmore has proven to be nothing more than an extra? I won’t hold my breath.

If the Hawks are smart, which they aren’t, they can get chances against this team because the blue line is straight-up bad. But they have to keep their zone from getting caved in, which is hard to do against this top six. It’ll be the same plan for the Jets as it was the Avs last night. Attack the Hawks line at speed and get around their plodding defense. Cycle from low to high to confuse their coverage. Win all the races because the Hawks can’t get there. Don’t let Kane and DeBrincat and Saad get out in space.

We’ll see if they execute. With another date with the Avs looming Saturday, this has every chance of being an ugly week. Not ugly enough to force any tough decisions of course. There’s a process, don’t ya know?

 

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