Niklas Hjalmarsson will be in the lineup tonight as the Blackhawks take on the Jets at MTS Centre. Not losing him for any period of time was just about the only non disheartening development on Friday night. So there's some good news to start with.
Corey Crawford will be back in net after getting hung out to dry by his teammates in his last start. This morning's skate was optional and Joel Quenneville was not present, so we'll see how the lines look in warmups. The trio of Vermette-Toews-Hossa was strong in its brief time together on Friday, so it'll be interesting to see if Quenneville gives that another look. It is known, though, that Michal Rozsival will be back in the lineup for David Rundblad tonight.
Now for the bad news: The Blackhawks are just 1-3 this season against the Jets, who have outscored the Blackhawks 11-5 in those matchups. The Blackhawks woke up this morning in fourth place in the central, one point behind the Fighting Devan Dubnyks. The Blackhawks have two games in hand, but those games come against the Jets and the Kings. The Predators are again piling up points and the Blues have Kevin Shattenkirk back, so any hope there was for home-ice in round one is just about out the window.
There are many areas that need improvement, and this of course again includes the power play. Chicago was 0-for-5 on the man advantage Friday night and is just 1-for-13 on the PP in its last six games. This team is offensively challenged without Patrick Kane. They need to take advantage when it has the man advantage. The Jets' penalty kill comes in at 81.8 percent, 12th in the league. It's worth seeing if Kimmo Timonen can provide a spark on the advantage. It's not like he has a decade's worth of experience quarterbacking a power play or anything like that.
Finally, here's news that will hopefully prove to be good: The Blackhawks' remaining regular season opponents are good. Aside from the Sabres and the Avalanche, the Blackhawks' remaining schedule consists of the Jets, Kings, Canucks, Blues twice and Wild. All teams in the playoff mix, all teams that would absolutely flatten the Blackhawks if the efforts of the last week persist. So, exactly what the doctor ordered?
This teams adjusts to the level of its competition. This can be maddening, and has been for the past week, sure. They looked pretty darn formidable in beating the Islanders and Rangers on back-to-back nights way back when 11 days ago. They played the Rangers well in an overtime loss the week before, too. For the most part, they've not only showed up, but played strong against formidable foes.
Despite how bad as the Blackhawks have looked in recent games, I haven't pressed the panic button. Yet. Tonight should have a playoff feel to it with the Jets nearing in on the first playoff berth of their rebirth and will be a good indicator of whether or not this team can be fixed by just flipping the proverbial switch. Given the standings and the remaining schedule, it's time they answer the bell. Two points, please.
Opponent Breakdown: Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have mostly had their way with the Blackhawks this season, winning three of the first four meetings. The lone Chicago victory came in the team's last meeting, which was a hard-fought OT victory. The away team has won all four meetings.
The Jets enter tonight's game winners of six of their last seven, an impressive stretch that includes victories against the Lightning, Blues and Canadiens. They're big, physical and they play hard. The Blackhawks are all too familiar with all of this, so there shouldn't be any taking of the opponent lightly. There certainly is no room to do so.
Ondrej Pavelec will man the blue crease for the Jets, and he's been pretty good at hockey lately. He has a six-game winning streak, is 6-1-0 in March with a .963 save percentage and hasn't given up more than two goals in a game since February 19th. Fun times. Less extra passes and more shots fired at the net would be a good start to finding the scoreboard tonight.
Further working against the Blackhawks tonight is that the Jets will be bolstered by the return of Mathieu Perrault who returns tonight after missing the last 16 games.
Chicago: Daniel Carcillo (upper body), Patrick Kane (collarbone) and Joakim Nordstrom (upper body)
Winnipeg: Ben Chiarot (upper body), Grant Clitsome (back), Bryan Little (upper body) and Paul Postma (lower body)
When: 6:30 p.m. CT
Where: MTS Centre
TV: Good ole channel 9, WGN