RECORDS: Hawks 25-21-8 Jets 28-23-5
PUCK DROP: 6pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
QUEEN ELIZABETH IN THEIR LIVING ROOM: Jetsnation.ca
It’s at points like these that you can understand Jonathan Toews’s frustration with the schedule of the NHL. There’s no logical reason that instead of spending consecutive Sundays in Winnipeg, with having to swing out to Western Canada in between, the Hawks and Jets couldn’t play just two consecutive games against each other and keep everyone more comfortable. But that’s not the world we have, so the Hawks will begin and end this vital road trip in Winnipeg. It’s even more of a bitch because you have to bus in every time, because they don’t have an airport as you know.
However it’s laid out, the Hawks can shape the rest of their season with this trip, both good and bad. The Hawks enter tonight three points back of the last wildcard, but with three teams to leap to get there. But the next five games are all against teams around them. Even if the Oilers and Canucks are a bit separated, it’s not hard to see how either or both could slip right into range over the coming weeks. Given how the Pacific can’t seem to stop stepping on a rake this season, any and all combinations out of there are possible.
The Jets come in having beat the Senators yesterday at home, and have also clubbed the Blues twice in the last week while also taking the Predators or OT. They’re three points ahead of the Hawks, but have played two games more. So you can see why this is a pretty big game for the Hawks. It’s your customary four-pointer.
The story remains the same with the Jets. They are woeful structurally, and do their best to try and outshoot and outscore it with their wealth of top line talent. It’s been harder for them this season, as the defense has been truly wretched with the departures of Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien. They haven’t been helped by injuries, but through the combo of that and general helplessness they’ve played 10 different guys. Morrissey and Pionk have been the only constants, and the only ones they can even dream of counting on.
Connor Hellebuyck has combined with their top tier scoring to keep them afloat, with a SV% of .920 while being under siege most nights. He didn’t start yesterday so he was saved for the Hawks, which makes you think the Jets think they need this one badly too.
As for the Hawks, they’ll be something of a lineup shuffle, at least as much as there’s been of late. Adam Boqvist will be given a little more time to heal his shoulder made of cardboard, so Nick Seeler will make his Hawks debut. Don’t expect much, and if you get a game where you barely notice him, so much the better. He’s slow, he had a tendency to be dumb, so this might be Connor Murphy’s biggest project of the season. They’ll be paired together tonight. Matthew Highmore will also come back in for Alex Nylander on the fourth line.
Three points is a bigger gap than it sounds in this everybody-gets-a-trophy NHL, but it’s also not insurmountable. The Hawks have to not get buried on this trip. 3-2 is probably the minimum they need, though 2-2-1 probably won’t kill them. But none of these teams on the schedule are monsters. The Hawks have already beaten the Jets twice, and soundly, and outplayed them for long stretches of their OT loss to them. The Oilers, Canucks, and Flames can all lay an egg on any given night, and the Hawks have wins against them this season.
This is supposed to be where it gets fun. The Hawks can make it so.