Chicago dropped a 5-4 result in their 2019-20 home opener against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday with Dominik Kubalik scoring his first NHL goal and Andrew Shaw finding the net twice in his return to the United Center.
Winnipeg beat the Minnesota Wild 5-2 on Thursday in their own home opener at Bell MTS Place. Patrick Laine scored four points (2G, 2A) in the win and is now tied with Edmonton's Connor McDavid for the NHL scoring lead with 10 points (3G, 7A).
Last season, the Blackhawks went winless against the Jets (0-2-2) with two road losses north of the border followed by a pair of overtime losses at the United Center. Jonathan Toews (3G, 2A) and Erik Gustafsson (1G, 4A) led Chicago in scoring, while Winnipeg's Mark Sheifele (3G, 5A) and Blake Wheeler (0G, 7A) led the season series in points.
Chicago did not run line rushes during morning skate, but head coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed after that Robin Lehner and Calvin de Haan would make their Blackhawk debuts, while Brendan Perlini will make his season debut in place of Alexander Nylander. Slater Koekkoek will be a healthy scratch to make way for de Haan.
"You just get excited to get out there and get going," Lehner said ahead of his first game with his new team. "When the season gets going, there are so many games, you just try to get in there and get the rotation going."
"It's been awhile. I'm looking forward to playing in front of the fans and finally get my toes wet with this organization and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity," said de Haan, who hasn't played a game, preseason or otherwise, since March 31. "Things are going to be moving quick out there. I might look a little slow at the beginning, but I'll just try to keep it simple and just play my game."
If Friday's practice groups are any indication, the top six up front could see a shuffled look tonight, with Perlini's addition to the fourth line likely the only change to the bottom six that started Thursday's game against San Jose.
"It'll be good," Toews said when asked of any potential moves up front. "I think Saad, (Kampf) and Kubalik, they were flying. (Carpenter)'s line was working hard. Aside from that, I think we can maybe get a little more balance and get some energy throughout all four lines this game. It shouldn't hurt."
Having allowed nine goals over the first two games, Chicago's defending and penalty kill has been the growing focus heading into Satruday's meeting with the Jets. The defensive unit, for the first time all season, has everyone available with de Haan set to return and Colliton expects the offseason addition to bring an immediate impact in both scenarios.
"He plays a very under control game. He makes clean plays," he said. "He came up as more of an offensive D-man, and he still has that in him to make plays, but he's efficient with it. He doesn't try to do too much and I think that's part of why he's good. He defends hard, he's physical when he needs to, very under control player and we think he'll go well with our group."
In net, Lehner knows that the early-season hiccups have to stop against a high-flying Jets offense that's tied for third in league scoring.
"We've definitely got to tighten it up," he said. "It's time to stop making excuses. We've got to do our assignments, we've got to take care of the puck," Lehner continued. "We've got to box it out and play a little more of a team game."