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Oh, but they’re weird and they’re wonderful: Blackhawks vs. Jets Preview

The Jets are soaring. The Blackhawks are ... not.

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Winnipeg Jets v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks welcome another Canadian opponent into town to cap off Thanksgiving Weekend when the Winnipeg Jets visit the United Center on Sunday night.

Winnipeg is currently tied with the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division, although both teams are only behind the first-place Dallas Stars because they haven’t played as many games: both Colorado and Winnipeg have 25 points in 19 games, a better points percentage (.658) than Dallas, which has 28 in 22.

Chicago and Winnipeg have already played once this season: a 4-0 Blackhawks loss in Winnipeg on Saturday, Nov. 5. That game was a lower point in a season full of them for Chicago, as the Blackhawks were outplayed in virtually every aspect of that game. Arvid Soderblom started that one but did not return from the locker room after the second intermission, which meant that Dylan Wells — who’d started this season in the ECHL — handled the third period. He played well, making 12 saves on 13 shots. The rest of the team did not.

Winnipeg’s been on a steady upward trend since then and is riding a 10-3-1 stretch after a slower 2-3 start. Most recently, Winnipeg beat the aforementioned Stars 5-4 in overtime on Friday night in Dallas. Although the Jets scored five times in that win, their offense still struggles to get off the runway at times (GET IT?). Defenseman Josh Morrissey leads the team in points with 20 (4 G, 16 A). Pierre-Luc Dubois (8 G, 9 A) and Kyle Connor (7 G, 10 A) each have 17 points while Mark Scheifele (10 G, 4 A) and Blake Wheeler (4 G, 10 A) each have 14. Though he has just six points in 19 games this season, Sam Gagner is on the Winnipeg roster, which means an 8-point game from him is always a possibility. Winnipeg still don’t possess the puck all that well, ranked 21st in the league with a 48.75 percent shot attempt share and 23rd in the league with a 48.26 percent expected goal share at 5-on-5. The power play checks in at 18.0 percent, good for 25th in the league.

But any of those offensive deficiencies above haven’t mattered too much because Connor Hellebuyck is looking like a Vezina candidate again this season with a 9-5-1 record, .926 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average. For a perspective on just how good he’s been, Hockey Reference has a statistic called goals saved above average (GSAA), which is a cumulative statistic that piles up over the course of a season. In the 2019-20 season, when Hellebuyck won the Vezina, he was at 22.4 in 58 games played. He’s already at 10.0 through just 15 games this season. Given that Winnipeg had Saturday off, he’s the expected starter for this game.

Solving Hellebuyck will be the task presented to the Blackhawks, which is going to be an incredibly difficult challenge based on Chicago’s offensive struggles this season. The offense has been a little better in the last week with nine goals in three games, but the Blackhawks still lost all three of those, each of their last six and 12 of their last 14. Defensive miscues have been the primary issue of late, with turnovers at the wrong time triggering countless odd-man rushes at the Chicago net far too often. Cutting down on those would go a long way towards the Blackhawks being more competitive in this game than they were against the Jets three weeks ago.

On the injury front, it appears Sam Lafferty will remain out for this game and a few others with an upper-body injury. Petr Mrazek was in the starter’s net at the morning skate, so he’ll probably be the guy. Alex Stalock was on the ice and appears closer to a return from concussion protocol, but Arvid Soderblom should remain the backup.

[Morning skate update] Jarred Tinordi is also out:

And here’s where any good news related to the team’s current state of affairs would go if there was anything to share.

Let’s go Hawks.

Tale of the tape (statistics from this season)

Blackhawks — Statistic — Jets

41.23% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 48.75% (21st)

40.65% (30th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 48.26% (23rd)

2.50 (30th) — Goals per game — 2.95 (21st)

3.45 (24th) — Goals against per game — 2.68 (7th)

56.9% (1st) — Faceoffs — 45.8% (28th)

21.0% (18th) — Power play — 18.0% (25th)

73.9% (24th) — Penalty kill — 82.4% (5th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

Athanasiou — Domi — Kane

Kurashev — Toews — Raddysh

Khaira — Dickinson — Blackwell

Katchouk — Entwistle — R. Johnson

J. Johnson — S. Jones

Roos — Murphy

McCabe — C. Jones

Mrazek

Söderblom

Jets

Connor — Dubois — Gagner

Perfetti — Scheifele — Wheeler

Harkins — Lowry — Eyssimont

Jonsson-Fjallby — Gustafsson — Maenalanen

Morrissey — Pionk

Dillon — Schmidt

Samberg — DeMelo

Hellebuyck

Rittich

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Radio: WGN 720

Live stream: Sling TV