The second game of the Hawks’ six game homestand that spans their by week takes place tonight, with the seemingly-not-going-away first place Winnipeg Jets paying a visit to Club 1901, and it seems that the Jets might have actually gotten their shit together.
Since #1 center and Art Ross threat Mark Scheifele went down right after Christmas with some kind of mid term shoulder thing that’s putting him out at least a month, the Jets have gone 5-0-1 with all five wins coming in regulation, and that’s not couting the game on 12/27 against Edmonton that they won even with Schiefele only playing half of. Granted another one of those wins was against the flailing Oilers, and two of them were against the bum-ass Sabres, but the fact remains that this team can still put up goals without him, scoring 26 goals in those 6 games. His injury has pressed Blake Wheeler into center duty for the first time in who knows how long, if ever at the NHL level. He’s flanked currently by Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, and they aren’t exactly tilting the ice in their favor at the moment, but given the amount of finish on the unit, it’s not really necessary. Longtime blog favorite Bryan Little anchors a second line with possession darling Mathieu Perrault and the very, very shoosty Nikolaj Ehlers, and as a trio they’re sporting a cool 63% share of attempts in the 75ish minutes they’ve played together. Injuries to Adam Lowry and Tanev The Younger have kneecapped what was a very decent and under appreciated checking unit, with only Joel Armia remaining healthy among that original three. That’s pushed Andrew Copp to third line duty where he might be a bit in over his head along with Shawn Matthias who is still in the league somehow. Matt Hendricks is grinding his ass off on the fourth line to the tumescent glee of Canadian sportswriters from coast to coast, and is showing top prospect Jack Roslovic just how to WANT IT.
On the blue line, even with both Toby Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien back from injuries, the Jets’ top pairing remains Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, and based on Buff’s comments last week, he hates it when his friends become successful. Trouba and The Moz generally play the best the opposition has to a draw, while Enstrom and Buff get to pull their usual freelance/free safety comedy act they’ve had going for 8 seasons now (fucking A that’s depressing). Tyler Myers is also healthy again, and he’ll be paired with Dmitri Kulikov who seems to have found a home in Winnipeg after getting his Russian ass run out of Florida and Buffalo. While Trouba is swift for his size, and Enstrom used to be but not necessarily facing forward, this isn’t the fastest group out there, but at least the pairings, ice time distribution, and assignments make sense now. It only took Paul Maurice 20 years worth of coaching experience to figure it out.
In net it’ll be Connor Hellebuyck once again, as he’s pretty firmly grabbed the starter’s share of minutes even with Steve Mason having the cobwebs cleared and having the higher price tag. Hellebuyck has been solid if not world beating, posting a .923 overall and a .928 at evens, finally proving the long held thought among hockey cognoscenti that if the Jets got representative NHL goaltending they had enough scoring to get themselves into the conversation.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, the story tonight is the debut of Anthony Duclair, who is clearly disrespecting Hawk Legend Brad Richards by donning jersey number 91. Duclair will tonight find himself on the third line on David Kampf’s left opposite Alex DeBrincat. Given Duclair’s left handedness it probably makes more sense to have he and ADB switch sides to both get put on their off wings to encourage more creativity, but that might make too much sense. What is clear is that this line will have a lot of speed with possibly all of it going in completely different directions. If Duclair and Debrincat can get on any kind of similar wavelength, this line could shift the dynamics of how the lines above it will be deployed. The corresponding move has been to put Patrick Sharp on the left side of the fourth line, which truthfully isn’t the worst idea. It gives him the opportunity to bum slay, and it gives Wingels and Mission Of Bouma a winger who at least in theory knew at one point in his career how to be slightly defensively responsibly.
Among the defensemen, it’s clear that the pairing of Kempny and Murphy was too beautiful for this world in the one game they got together in Ottawa, as all reports from the morning skate indicate it will be the “standard” groupings with Murphy once again playing his off side with the seemingly re-motivated Porkins. Jeff Glass gets the start tonight after Anton Forsberg went back to back earlier in the week, and based on the Jets’ offense (3rd in the league at 3.4 GPG ,2nd ranked power play at 25.6), this has the potential to go balls up in short order, particularly if the Hawks start marching to the penalty box.
These teams right now are mirror images of each other. The Jets barely break even on the attempts ledger at 50.84%, but they don’t need to do that much given the firepower they possess, where as the Hawks have climbed to within fractions of a percent of being the top possession team in the league, but seemingly couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in any situation. Either way, there is a shitload of speed between these two groups of forwards, and tonight should be quite a fast paced affair. It’s getting late in a hurry for the men in red, and “process over results” just isn’t going to cut it at this point anymore. Let’s go Hawks.
Game #44 Preview