The Chicago Blackhawks have lost four straight after Wednesday night's loss to Philadelphia and sit third in the Central Division, a full five points behind Dallas and three back of St. Louis. The Hawks recalled goaltender Michael Leighton from Rockford on Thursday and Scott Darling will get the start in net as Corey Crawford is day-to-day with an upper body injury. The Hawks will need to use their team speed, be aggressive in the offensive zone and settle in defensively in order to take advantage of the last-place Jets.
Coach Joel Quenneville will likely continue to shake up his lines in order to jump start the team. Possible combinations include putting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together on the top line as he did at times in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Kane and Toews, along with Tomas Fleischmann, posted a team-high +12 shot attempt differential at even strength against the Flyers but did not result in the kind of scoring of that number might suggest. However, given the strength and consistency of the second line, pairing Kane and Toews is likely to be a very limited proposition.
Despite their current skid, the Blackhawks are only five points behind Dallas and three behind St. Louis with a first place finish and home ice advantage still attainable. However, in order to to turn those possibilities into realities, the Blackhawks need to start putting up some wins and tonight is a prime opportunity against a Jets team playing only for pride. With Crawford at home, Darling will get his second straight start, amassing valuable minutes in net to ready himself for a deep playoff run. A needed spark may come from Andrew Ladd, who is likely to have a bit more jump as he makes his initial return to Winnipeg.
Winnipeg Jets | Record: 29-36-5 | 7th in the Central Division | Goal Differential: -27
The Chicago Blackhawks have won two of three games against the Jets this year Winnipeg goalie Michael Hutchinson made 45 saves in a 3-1 win at MTS Centre on Oct. 29. Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa had a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win at United Center on Dec. 6. Five days later, Corey Crawford had 25 saves in a 2-0 home win for Chicago.
The line of Alexander Burmistrov, Marko Dano and Mathieu Perreault combined for seven points as the Jets beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 at Rogers Arena earlier this week. Dano led the way with three points (2G, 1A), giving him five in his last four games after being held without a point in his first few games after being moved by the Blackhawks just before the trade deadline in a deal for former Jets captain Andrew Ladd. The line was on fire all night, keeping the Canucks off-balance much of the time and finishing the game with a Corsi-for rating of +12 in 15 minutes of ice time. Ondrej Pavelec is expected to be in goal for the Jets tonight.
Blake Wheeler has been without a goal in the month of March, but continues to lead the team in assists with 13 more assists than his nearest teammate. Wheeler, who has registered an assist in three straight games, has become Winnipeg's leader since the departure of Andrew Ladd. Although he has put up just 18 goals this season, well below his previous two seasons, he currently leads the team with 216 shots on goal.
The Jets are finishing a disappointing year; one where they had high hopes of securing a playoff berth for the second straight year and proving that their organization is on the rise in Central Division.
Anticipated Winnipeg Lines:
Blackhawks: Marcus Kruger, Corey Crawford
How to watch
When: 7 p.m. CT
Where: MTS Centre, Winnipeg
TV: CSN Chicago, NHL Network