FACEOFF: 2pm Central
TV/RADIO: WGN for both
SO VERY, VERY COLD: Arctic Ice Hockey
Hard to believe because the Jets have now been in existence for three years, but this will be the Hawks first trip to the MTS Center (Centre?). Or at least in the regular season. Of course, the narrative is all about Jonathan Toews coming home to play his first regular season game in his hometown and all that. Whatever. We’ve done this enough with the two trips Patrick Kane has made to Buffalo.
While the Jets may have hoped that a switch to the divisional format and to the West would aid their pursuit of a playoff spot, it’s been the opposite so far. They’ll be longing for the Southeast Division again before too long at this rate. They’ve started 5-7-2, and it’s hard to really say what it is they do well. They score just over two goals a game, they give up just under three goals a game, and they take and surrender 31 shots per game.
It feels like they should score more, but that’s probably blurred by emotional attachment to some of their forwards. Andrew Ladd is obviously all that is man, Evander Kane is a really powerfully kept secret, Bryan Little is a sneaky creative center, and Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi have been scoring annoying goals against the Hawks for years. It just doesn’t add up to much.
The blue line feels like it should be better too, and that’s even outside the Boston Creme blimp that is Byfuglien. Toby Enstrom is one of the more unheralded d-men around, Zach Bogosian is starting to come into his own, Mark Stuart is a nasty little thing, and rookie Jacob Trouba is going to be a thing one day. Again, it just doesn’t seem to add up to much.
Of course, maybe it’s being partially undone by Ondrej Pavelec, who just isn’t all that good in net.
What they do have is a raucous home atmosphere, and with the first visit from the Hawks and champs, even an afternoon start probably won’t help to have it less boiling. That might count for something, but enough?
For the Hawks, Handzus and Brad Mills aren’t making the trip, which will see Ben Smith back in the lineup. While Mills has been good for what he’s being asked, it should have been a perfect model for Smith as I don’t think Mills was doing anything Smith isn’t capable of. But he hasn’t shown it yet this year, and hopefully now is the time.
Other than that it’s standard stuff. Corey Crawford will start, and the Hawks don’t need to do anything special other than not fall asleep defensively and care only a little on the other end. If you let the Jets take space, they do have some weapons to score. But not enough. And getting at their defense should lead to plenty of opportunities, which Pavelec can’t really keep out.
Expect Toews to score. I mean, he has to, right?