The Blackhawks begin their annual Circus Trip with a stop in Winnipeg to face the Jets on Tuesday. After going 4-6-0 to begin the season, the Jets have won four of their last six games and have gained points in six of their last seven outings, rising to second place in the Central Division (although third-place Minnesota has three games in hand). They were last in action on Sunday, besting Los Angeles 3-2 in a shootout.
After defeating the NHL-leading Canadiens 3-2 on Sunday, the Blackhawks have now leveraged a 9-0-2 run into a six-point lead, but the majority of that run was played in front of friendly faces. While Chicago is 3-2-0 away from the United Center, the upcoming seven-game trip will be a chance to test the team's ability to win consistently on the road. Corey Crawford has started all five road tilts thus far, but with a pair of back-to-backs on the schedule, the Blackhawks will need Scott Darling to step in as well.
Winnipeg has suffered some injury setbacks, especially to their forward corps: Bryan Little, Drew Stafford, Shawn Matthias, Alexander Burmistrov, Joel Armia, Mathieu Perreault and now Kyle Connor have all been sidelined. On the blue line, Tyler Myers has been banged up and is questionable for Tuesday's tilt, but there's a silver lining with the return of 22-year-old Jacob Trouba, who sat out the first few weeks of the season due to a contract dispute. The 2012 first-round pick returned to action last week and has averaged 25:33 in two outings so far.
Every November finds the Blackhawks on the road, eager to establish themselves as road warriors, and under Joel Quenneville they've fulfilled this mission more often than not. The team is 28-11-4 on the Circus Trip since 2008 for a 65 percent win rate, and in each of the last three years the Blackhawks have not lost more than one game in regulation over the six- or seven-game stretch. While Chicago's six-point cushion may seem comfortable at the moment, the rest of the division is more than capable of taking advantage of any slump that the current leaders might suffer-including Tuesday's opponent.
ON THE MARK
When Winnipeg lost Little, last year's top-line center, to an injury during the season opener, the natural replacement was 23-year-old Mark Scheifele. The big centerman has taken a big leap forward in his fourth campaign with the club, currently shares the league lead with 20 points in 17 games. Scheifele was named the NHL's Second Star for the week ending Nov. 13 after registering three goals and three assists in four outings, and he'll be tasked with leading the Jets' offensive charge all season, even after the injuries subside.
Scheifele is currently playing alongside 2016 second-overall pick Patrik Laine, who has lit up the scoreboard and leads the league with 11 goals in his first 17 career games; he's been a menace on Winnipeg's power play, where he has a team-best five goals and seven points. On left wing is former Blackhawk Marko Dano, who arrived in Winnipeg as part of the Andrew Ladd deal last season and has four points in seven games since being called up from the AHL.
Patrick Kane introduced an early candidate for goal of the year on Sunday with an astonishing solo effort on the eventual game-winner that had everybody talking in the locker room afterwards. Head Coach Joel Quenneville called it a "spectacular" goal, and it was a timely reminder of what the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner can do, no matter what the setting or occasion. Kane's record-shattering 2015-16 campaign was sustained largely on the strength of his road performances, where he accumulated 23 goals and 29 assists to lead the league by a fair margin. If he can produce away from home like last season-and they don't all have to be cut from the highlight reel-he'll put the Blackhawks in a good position to continue their strong form.
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