Uncertainty is in the air. With the NHL trade deadline looming overhead, the Blackhawks find themselves 19 points out of a playoff spot with 20 regular-season games remaining on their schedule.
After a rather monotonous 3-1 loss to the Wild on Saturday afternoon, the Blackhawks return home to the United Center on Sunday evening, playing host to the Jets.
Winnipeg is not devoid of issues, as they currently sit six points out of a wildcard spot. While the Blackhawks struggles are evident, the Jets cannot afford to be caught sleepwalking at the risk of missing out on two crucial points. Chicago — who is 1-1 against the Jets this season — can expect a hard fought 60-minute battle in Sunday’s Central Division match-up.
The bulk of the Jets’ roster is healthy and features a talented forward group — namely Kyle Connor — who is leading the team with 73 points (38 G, 35 A). Connor and teammates Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler have each eclipsed the 40-point mark on the season. And while Winnipeg has only the 14th best power play (21.2 percent) and is 15th in goals per game (3.06), they can and will feast on lesser quality opponents, given the opportunity.
Continuing the “middle of the road” trend, the Jets are 18th in goals allowed per game (3.06). Although Winnipeg features a capable blueline, they, at times, rely heavily on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck — who will likely get the start on Sunday night — owns a 21-22-9 record, with a .909 save percentage and a 2.99 goals against average. Those numbers aren’t necessarily much to write home about, but the 28-year-old veteran has been able to steal a game when needed.
Over on the Chicago side is where things start to get interesting. With Sunday’s game being the last contest before the trade deadline, it is likely that it could be the last time some of the current Blackhawks players wear the original six franchise’s historic sweater. With that being said, we won’t delve too much into speculation of who could be on the move.
With Kevin Lankinen getting the start in net on Saturday against Minnesota, it is speculated that Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the Hawks on Sunday. The Blackhawks have been rolling with seven defenseman and this could remain the trend as they continue to work recently signed rookie Alex Vlasic into the lineup. Vlasic played his first NHL game on Saturday, recording one blocked shot in 6:10 of ice time against the Wild.
Recently acquired forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk also made their Blackhawks debuts against the Wild. While neither made an impact on the stat sheet, both skated well — particularly in transition — were positionally sound and contributed in subtle but positive ways. Sunday’s game will be another opportunity to see what each young forward has to offer.
Watching the team you’re a fan of continue to struggle through mediocre-at-best seasons is not very enjoyable. However, it seems that the Blackhawks are being very transparent with fans that there is finally a goal in mind and they are taking the necessary steps to paving a path to sustained success and relevancy. No one individual can truly predict which moves will workout or how long this process will take. But, watching this team build with a purpose will be much easier to endure than it has been watching them throw teflon at a wall and waiting for it to stick. I’d much prefer the beloved to stick to a plan with a purpose than remain rebels without a cause.
Blackhawks — Statistic — Jets
46.57% (28th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 49.86% (16th)
45.11% (30th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 49.61% (17th)
2.58 (28th) — Goals per game — 3.06 (15th)
3.40 (24th) — Goals against per game — 3.06 (18th)
48.8% (21st) — Faceoffs — 50.7% (14th)
19.9% (118th) — Power play — 21.2% (14th)
76.5% (22nd-T) — Penalty kill — 76.5% (22nd-T)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Strome — Kane
Kubalik — Toews — Dach
Raddysh — Lafferty — ?
Katchouk — Carpenter — Entwistle
Vlasic — S. Jones
McCabe — C. Jones
Stastny — Scheifele — Wheeler
Connor — Dubois —Ehlers
Copp — Lowry — Svechnikov
Harkins — Toninato — Brooks
Morrissey — DeMelo
Dillon — Pionk
Stanley — Schmidt
How to watch
When: 6:00 p.m. CT
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Webstream: NHL NET, ESPN+