After playing five games in eight days (and going 3-1-1 in the process), the Chicago Blackhawks got some much needed rest over the past three days off, but they will get back to work on Saturday afternoon in a Central Division showdown with the Winnipeg Jets.
The Hawks are 1-2-1 against the Central in limited action this year, but the Jets’ record against their division-mates is even worse. They are 2-5-1 against the Central this year, with their only two victories coming in shootouts against the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. Overall, the picture isn’t promising for the Jets, as they are 2-4-2 in their previous eight games, with the aforementioned two shootout victories the only winning results they’ve experienced over the past few weeks.
As for the Hawks, they finally seem to have righted the ship in terms of putting forth a good offensive effort, scoring 11 times in their previous two games in victories over the Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators earlier in the week. Corey Crawford played some excellent hockey for them in both games, and even though the defense of the team remains a concern having given up five goals in two of their past three games, the Hawks are feeling good about where they’re at as they get set to play their first game in November.
Key to the Game: Forwards Must Stay Aggressive Defensively
The Jets have one of the league’s worst scoring attacks, ranking 23rd on the year thus far in goals per game. Bryan Little does have seven goals in 14 games, and Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler have six and five, respectively, but there is little-to-no secondary scoring on a team that has to try to score a lot to make up for some questionable defense and equally disappointing goaltending.
To that effect, the Hawks have to make sure that they are making life difficult for the Jets coming out of the neutral zone. The Jets do have some guys that can move quickly with the puck, including Kane, but for the most part, the Hawks should be able to disrupt the flow of the offense with the amount of pressure that certain players have recently been adding to the mix.
Those players include third line forwards Jeremy Morin and Andrew Shaw, who are blending a bruising physicality with a great awareness of when to put pressure on puck carriers, and the results have been great, with plenty of turnovers coming as a result.
If the Hawks can get into the swing of things in one of the key areas to their success, then they should be able to ground the Jets’ offense in a big way.
Blackhawk to Watch: Jonathan Toews
The story surrounding Toews’ return to his hometown of Winnipeg has dominated the narrative all week long, but the truth of the matter is that Toews’ presence in the Hawks’ lineup is going to be a key to the team’s potential success against the Jets.
Toews’ hat trick on Tuesday night was a product of a great all-around effort by the Hawks’ top line, with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp both providing some fantastic punch to complement Toews’ great night. If the captain can continue to sniff out open scoring areas like he did against the Senators, then this could be the beginning of a very profitable run of hockey for the veteran leader.
Jet to Watch: Evander Kane
If there has been one Jets player who has garnered more publicity and notoriety since the team’s move to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011, it would have to be Kane.
In addition to his excellent on-ice skills (he is currently second on the team in goals behind Little), Kane has made waves off the ice too, posing with fat stacks of cash and, in general, causing consternation among the faithful with some of his antics.
At any rate, what matters on Saturday for the Jets is that the speedy Kane is able to break through any forechecking attempts that the Hawks will throw at him in the neutral zone, because if he can get through that trap, then the team could be sitting pretty against a defensive unit in Chicago that hasn’t exactly been stellar lately.