Game Time: 7:30PM
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Fireman Ed’s Cousin Gord: Illegal Curve
In what was a tradition unlike any other, the Hawks for seemingly eons played a home game on West Madison on Boxing Day, and even during the Stone Ages the building was more packed than usual. The league in its wisdom has opted to extend the holiday break, pushing the return to action to the 27th, and even giving the Hawks a road game or two in recent years on the date. But tonight will be as close to the Boxing Day games of yore as the league will allow, and the Hawks will be welcoming the Jets to the UC once again already.
Since their last visit here, the Jets have gone 3-4-1, which is still a perfectly mediocre stretch that seems to encapsulate the Hockey Hell that the organization has found itself in for seemingly a generation. The Jets still boast size that will give the Hawks problems however, led first and foremost by captain Blake Wheeler, quite possibly one of the last true power forwards the league will see wasting what’s left of his prime in stasis. Rookie Patrik Laine has slowed his scoring pace down a bit from his torrid start, now hovering at 19 goals, which is still good for second in the league behind some Crosby guy’s 24. As a result, his centerman Mark Scheifele’s scoring pace has dropped as well, but again, his 31 points still gets him in the now rarified air of being just about a point-per. However, if those two aren’t scoring, they’re not much for driving play as both are underwater in attempts against when on ice. The Jets bottom six features Marko Dano who’s showing periodic flashes of usefulness, but the level of regret on that deal is not anywhere Sweet Finnish Jesus levels just yet. Drew Stafford normally plays well in contract years, but a whopping 4 points so far and a 44 share suggest that he’s pretty much done for. Of course that means he’ll go for 4 points tonight.
On the blue line, Dustin Byfuglien still leads the league in ice time for some ungodly reason, and it’s now Josh Morrisey’s job to be his light that never goes out. Jacob Trouba and Toby Enstrom form probably as positionally sound and skilled of a pairing as there is, and in all likelihood will draw the top assignment tonight. Ben Chiarot and Paul Potsma are hockey players for the Jets, and they indeed for their third pairing of defensemen.
Connor Hellebuyck has still yet to fully grab the starter’s role by the curlies and make it his, but the Jets are giving him every opportunity to do so simply out of a lack of alternatives. While Hellebuyck’s .910 doesn’t impress, it’s better than the devil inside Michae Hutchinson who’s currently sporting a .900. However having mediocre numbers has never stopped either of the two of them from standing on their heads against the Hawks.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they’ll welcome the Arty Party back to the lineup tonight while Marian Hossa will sit once again. As a result, Jonathan Toews will find himself between the other two H’s of the Triple H Line, with Vince Hinostroza getting a crack at the right wing. Rare has been the instance when a right-handed shot has patrolled the right wall in the Hawks’ top 6 in the Quenneville era, but Hinostroza’s play of late, particularly his speed through the neutral zone, has warranted finding a way to keep him at the top of the lineup rather than slotting him down just for position’s sake.
The blue line will remain the same, which means Michal Kempny will likely finish out 2016 having played only 4 games in final month for the sake of Passenger 57 and his glistening 42.9% share of attempts for. And he and Gustav Forsling (whom he is taking power play time away from) will certainly find themselves with plenty to deal with in the corners given the Jets’ size. Corey Crawford gets the cage once again, and hopefully his team makes amends for not backing up what was an exemplary return performance against Colorado.
Games with the Jets generally feel similar to one another, and this one should be no different considering that teams are entering into the middle third of their seasons begin to truly fall prey to The Slog. But the building should be full and more electric just because it always is, and hopefully the product on the ice will follow suit, considering the Hawks have scored a single goal in 120 minutes of gameplay against the Jets so far. With a commensurate amount of pucks on net, that shooting percentage should snap back, but they’ll have to get around the large Winnepeg men to find those angles. Let’s go Hawks.