Saturday will mark the fourth and final regular-season game between Chicago and Winnipeg, with the Blackhawks handily taking all three previous decisions, outscoring their opponents a combined 15-5. In fact, the Blackhawks haven’t lost to the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise since Oct. 27, 2007, a span of eight games.
Although he’s gone through the typical rookie growing pains, the Jets’ Mark Scheifele has proven that he belongs at the NHL level, and his recent production corroborates that fact. The 20-year-old centerman has recorded nine points (4G, 5A) in his last nine games, dating back to Jan. 5, and 20 points in his last 23 appearances. The 2011 first-round pick has also seen significant power-play time (2:01 per game), recording a goal and three assists on the man advantage this year.
Sunday marks Patrick Kane’s 500th NHL game, and if his career numbers are any indication, he should end up on the score sheet. It’s a small sample size, but Kane’s career performance against the Winnipeg franchise has been nothing short of spectacular, recording 13 points (6G, 7A) in eight career matchups. He has two goals and an assist in three games against the Jets this season.
A pillar of a puck-possession offense like the Blackhawks’ is winning faceoffs, and Chicago features two of the league’s best at the dot in Jonathan Toews and Marcus Kruger. The captain and reigning Selke Trophy winner, ranks seventh in the league with a 57.4 faceoff percentage, while the Swedish center sits just behind him in eighth with a 57.3 mark. Just as important, Kruger’s 57.8 faceoff percentage on the penalty kill makes him a valuable asset when down a skater, and his 66 shorthanded faceoff wins ranks 10th in the NHL.
The Jets may find themselves in last place in the Central Division, but their offense, which is predicated on a blend of speed and power, has produced enough to rank somewhere around the middle of the pack. Winnipeg features a host of talented wingers, including captain Andrew Ladd, Michael Frolik, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane, and their defensive corps—led by Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien—is more than capable of joining the rush at any time.
Results have been mixed since Head Coach Paul Maurice took over for Claude Noel in Winnipeg; however the needle is pointing up as the Jets fly into Chicago. Having won five of their last six decisions, including an overtime win against Toronto on Saturday, it seems like Maurice’s offensive system is clicking; his centers are distributing the pucks better, and with greater success. Though the end result may be a high-scoring affair, the Blackhawks know what it takes to beat the Jets, having done it three times already this season. With no games at the United Center until March 4, the Blackhawks will want to leave their fans a parting gift.