The Chicago Blackhawks will look to go into their Christmas break on a high note as they take on the Winnipeg Jets in a clash of Central Division rivals.
The Jets were supposed to be scraping the bottom of the barrel in the division this season, but they are surprisingly hanging around and actually playing some solid hockey. They have lost three of their last five games, but they did earn points in two of those contests and picked up home wins over the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins in the process.
Over that same span, they’ve been getting some good contributions from a former Blackhawks. Michael Frolik has a goal and four assists over those contests, and he’s seen an increase in his ice time as he’s become one of the team’s primary offensive weapons.
Unfortunately for the Jets, one of their biggest weapons has been dormant for several games. After a four-game point streak that saw him score three goals and pick up four assists, Jets captain Andrew Ladd has gone pointless in his last four games, tallying a minus-3 rating and picking up just nine shots on goal over that span.
As for the Hawks, after a slow start without Brad Richards on Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they picked up two late first period goals and cruised to an easy 4-0 victory over their Original Six rivals. Using a couple of new line combinations to compensate for Richards’ absence, the Hawks’ second line of Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Kane was especially potent, combining for two goals and five assists in the game.
When the Hawks take on the Jets, they will need the same kind of consistent effort from both of their top lines. Jonathan Toews did have a goal in Sunday’s game, but he’ll need to hope that Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa can pull their weight as the Hawks look to figure out how to solve Winnipeg’s defense.
Don’t dust off that last sentence so quicky. The Jets may not have the best goaltenders in the league, with Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson alternating starts for the team, but they still have the fourth-best goals against average in the NHL, only allowing 2.3 goals per game on the season. Their penalty kill has been excellent as well, killing off 84.8% of the power plays that they face.
Where the Jets are especially vulnerable is on the offensive side of things. They are only scoring 2.4 goals per game, and with the way that the Blackhawks are able to suppress shots and dominate puck possession, they should be able to dictate the tempo of the game and generate plenty of scoring chances at the other end of the ice.