PUCK DROP: 7pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN Radio
JET CITY WOMAN: Arctic Ice Hockey
Well, there can’t be a better way to get healthy after losing four in a row than spending the weekend taking on the Central Division jobbers known as the Jets and Wild (and then a Stars team that will be without Klingberg and Seguin, or the Western Canada swing after that… say, the schedule gets pretty light here, huh?) Considering the Stars’ injuries and the Blues’ sudden case of suck-itis (13 goals to the Flames and Oilers, huh?), if the Hawks have any desire to win the division or put one last regular season surge on film then you’d have to think it starts now.
What you’ll find in Winnipeg is a team that traded away a couple pieces at the deadline and is most certainly playing out the string. Otherwise why would Connor Hellebuyck be in the AHL? Since dumping their captain on the Hawks, the Jets have gone 3-6-1 to sink to the bottom of the Central with no floatation device in sight. They’ve given up less than three goals in a game in that stretch just twice, in case you thought the problems were any different. They most certainly are not.
The main piece from the Ladd trade, other than the 1st rounder, is of course Marko Dano who has gone 3-2-5 in 10 games and has impressed with his speed. He has also clocked the opposition in possession with a 55.3% mark since arriving, mostly playing with Alex Burmistrov and Adam Lowry on his more natural right-wing spot. But then again, everyone pretty much knew that Dano would be a useful NHL-er given the chance to learn on the job. That’s just the price you pay for going for it. The impressive thing is that line has not been fed the easiest competition, though getting some help from zone starts.
Overall, the Jets remain a good possession team (better than the Hawks, actually), and that really hasn’t dipped since they gave up the ghost on the season. Once again, they’ve been let down by the fact that Pavelec and The Devil Inside whiff on more shots than an overserved frat boy, with neither having a save-percentage over .905. In adjusted-save percentage, Never Tear Us Apart is the second worst goalie in the league and Pavelec is in the bottom 15. Hellebuyck was in the top-10 in that category, but clearly he’s not nearly ready to be an NHL-starter. Or the Jets want to take a real run at Auston Matthews. I’ll let you decide.
Ladd’s departure has affected the top line a little bit, as Blake Wheeler hasn’t scored since the captain left. But he’s mostly been just handing the puck to Mark Scheifele, who has filled in for the injured Bryan Little on the top line, who has nine goals in March. Scheifele may finally, finally, showing the #1 center potential they kept hoping and saying he would. But it’s one thing to do it when your team is dead and buried and another to do it when it actually matters.
Whatever condition the Hawks find the Jets in, they’ve been something of an annoying opponent for them. Their size has been something the Hawks just haven’t been able to deal with well, at least on nights when they’re not fully locked in. You’d think after losing four in a row that wouldn’t be the case tonight, but I thought that on Wednesday when they’d lost three in a row. The Jets will simply put pucks behind the Hawks’ defense and play Angry Birds after it, while inciting their crowd to the their podunk heights. But generally, the Hawks have played the Jets better there than they have here, though this year the Hawks took both home games against them and lost in their one trip up there when Guns In The Sky made 45 saves against them in October.
This is still a dumb Jets team, and the Hawks will get a chance to straighten out a power play that hasn’t scratched in the past two games. The Jets also have one of the worst kills in the league, though it remains better than the Hawks’.
Other obstacles the Hawks will face is that it’s a Scott Darling start on the road, and those don’t tend to go well. Also, Teuvo may not make the bell as he’s still battling the same illness which nearly kept him out of the Philly game (as opposed to the knee injury that kept him out of the Peterborough game).
I think we’ll find out this weekend how much of the Hawks’ problems are accentuated by give-a-shit levels. There’s no question they don’t want this losing streak to get silly, and if they can’t get it together against the Jets who are long out of it and a Wild team that can’t seem to put it all together and make up for the three ass-kickings it’s already handed the Hawks, then we’ll know the structural problems run deep. Considering the condition of the two teams in front of them (while no longer ignoring the hard-charging Preds behind them), it’s still all right there for them. Whether they’re capable of grabbing it….