After winning three straight games, the Chicago Blackhawks will try to gain ground in the Central Division when they visit the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
The Blackhawks, who feasted against some of the NHL’s worst teams in a three game homestand at the United Center, will face a much stronger test against the Jets, who currently sit in third place in the Central Division race.
The Blackhawks have not won a game against a team currently in a playoff spot since defeating the New York Rangers at the United Center on Nov. 15. Since then, they have lost six consecutive games against playoff opponents, and their record against teams currently in playoff spots stands at 3-8-4 on the season.
Perhaps more worryingly for the Blackhawks, they have only won a single game against the top five teams in the Central Division this season. They have lost six times against Central Division playoff foes, including a pair of losses to the Nashville Predators earlier this season.
Even last season, the Blackhawks struggled against a Jets team that was more physical and faster than they were. They went 1-4-0 against the Jets a season ago, with Jonathan Toews failing to notch a single point against his hometown team.
Patrick Kane, however, was much better, with a goal and four assists in five games. The winger has been finding his groove as of late, with a goal and two assists in his last two games, and he’ll need to be in top form as the Blackhawks look to keep up their winning ways.
The Key: Dictating Matchups With Patchwork Defense
The Blackhawks are dealing with some injuries on their blue line, as Cody Franson is on injured reserve and Jan Rutta was left behind in Chicago as he continues to recover from an upper body injury.
With those players down, the team is going to need some big performances out of players like Jordan Oesterle, who has been playing significant minutes at even strength since returning to the team’s lineup over the weekend, and Gustav Forsling, who has made strides forward in his two-way game after a rough rookie season.
The key for the Blackhawks will be to make sure that they get the matchups they want against some of Winnipeg’s toughest players. Guys like Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele have had excellent seasons so far, and with the Blackhawks dealing with injuries and a speed deficiency on their defense, they will have to be very cautious in how they approach this game.