Fresh off a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, their fifth win in six games with Paul Maurice at the helm, the Winnipeg Jets head into Chicago to take on the Blackhawks. While the Blackhawks are coming into this game, with two days off, it'll be the Jets' second game is as many nights.
The question heading into this game: can the Jets hang with the 'Hawks? The Blackhawks currently sit second in both the Western Conference and NHL with 76 points, and are an impressive 18-3-7 at home. The Jets, meanwhile, have only beaten up on the NHL's bottom-feeders (as they should) under Paul Maurice, while struggling to tread water against the league's heavyweights. Today's game represents another opportunity for the Jets to show what they're made of and continue their - dare I say it - recent playoff push.
Corey Crawford is expected to start in goal for the Blackhawks. For the Jets, playing on their second night of a back-to-back, here's hoping that Al Montoya gets his first Maurice-era start.
Keys to the Game
Start Montoya - It's no secret that goaltenders struggle on the second night of back-to-back games, and ignoring this fact had been one of my largest qualms with the Jets' coaching staff over the past couple of seasons. Starting Ondrej Pavelec would be akin to preemptively shooting oneself in the foot. Will Paul Maurice pull the trigger, or will he listen to reason and start Al Montoya in net?
Dig Deep: Paul Maurice tends to run a shorter bench than his predecessor, typically icing his fourth liners for just five minutes a night. On the second night of a back-to-back set though, the Jets may need a bit of a bigger contribution from their depth players. Will Maurice play his current face-punching fourth line, or shake things up? And should the coach call on the fourth line for some extra minutes, will they be up to the challenge?
Stay Sharp: The Blackhawks' top line of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp are having a tremendous season, with Patrick Sharp on pace for a career-best season. If the Jets can contain the 'Hawks top line, they'll be in pretty good shape.
Need for Speed: The Blackhawks are one of the NHL's best puck-moving and skating teams, and this ought to allow them to exploit some of the Jets less mobile defencemen. Adam Pardy, Keaton Ellerby and Mark Stuart all don't handle speed well, and if the Blackhawks turn this game into a track meet it could get ugly (for the Jets) fast.
Don't Let Up: Several games in a row now, the Jets have started fairly strong and faded over the second half of the game. Playing two games in as many nights, I expect that trend to continue. And when it happens, the Blackhawks ought to pounce.
Ch-Ch-Changes: The Jets have two consistently effective lines, with a third that is sometimes effective but often makes you want to pull your hair out, and a fourth line that rarely plays (for good reason). On defense, the story is much the same. With last change at home, coach Joel Quenneville will be able to pick his spots and take advantage of the bottom half of the Jets' lineup.
Player to Boo Mericlessly
Patrick Kane, because he's collected nearly $30 million from the Blackhawks in his career (before taxes) and once punched a taxi driver over twenty cents. Apparently he has a tough time letting go of things.
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