WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets conclude their season series with the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at MTS Centre, and while the Jets (31-39-7) have been without some key pieces on the blue line thanks to season ending surgeries, the Blackhawks will also be missing a key blue liner tonight.
Following a match penalty in Chicago’s 4-1 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday, Duncan Keith is suspended indefinitely while he waits for his hearing with NHL Player Safety this afternoon.
But even without Keith, who leads all Chicago defenceman in points with 43, the Jets know tonight’s task doesn’t get any easier.
“They miss a key part. They seem to find someone to fill that role pretty good every time,” said Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. “(I’m) not expecting anything less out of their team. Someone is going to jump in and play his minutes.”
That’s a lot of minutes. Keith has had over 25 minutes of ice time in 40 of the 67 games he’s played this season.
“He’s a force,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “The defensive side of the game, people wouldn’t notice how strong he is. His quickness, that stick, the way he closes the gap. He can be in on something offensively, and then his speed and quickness to get back and break up plays.”
The last meeting between the two clubs back on Mar. 18 was the first since the trade involving Marko Dano and former Jets captain Andrew Ladd. The Blackhawks won that match up 4-0, but come into tonight 3-5-2 in their last 10.
Dano, who has five points since the trade, says the Jets are prepared for an early push from the Blackhawks tonight.
“They’re going to come here and try to play their best game. The last time we played (them) they were also on a losing streak. Now they’re going to try and get the winning mentality back,” said Dano. “I believe we can play a better game than last game against Chicago. We just have to be ready to play from the start to the end of the game.”
Including tonight, the final five regular season games for the Jets are all against teams that have either clinched a playoff spot, or are battling to get in. In Chicago’s case, at 44-26-7, the Blackhawks are trying to stay ahead of Nashville for third spot in the Central Division.
Maurice says that changes how the game gets played in two ways.
“One, you know most of the names on the other team. When Ottawa comes in, they’ve got some guys out. It was the same with Buffalo, or our team,” said Maurice, referring to the injuries the Jets have suffered in recent weeks.
“(Second), the risk profile of teams that are either fighting for the playoffs or trying to gain ground in the playoff is different. They’re not going to do anything different out of their game, they’re preparing for the playoffs. But there will also be a higher compete level on all pucks.
“The veteran group in our locker room knows they’re playing against (Jonathan) Toews, and playing against their top end, so they play a different kind of energy because they know they have to be at their best.”
Puck drop is 7 pm CT.
Brandon Tanev skated with the Jets for the first time today since signing his one-year, two-way contract on Wednesday.
Maurice didn’t want to evaluate the former Providence College winger based on one morning skate, but did expand on when he hopes to get the 2015 NCAA national champion in the line-up.
“It’s not like bringing a guy up from the minors who had a training camp and has played pro. This is all brand new to him,” said Maurice. “I’d like him to get to know a few of the guys a bit, get him a couple practices in. I guess there’s a chance Minnesota, but I would say I’m looking really hard at Anaheim for him.
“(He’s got) real good speed, real good quickness, passes the puck pretty hard. After that, we’ll get a full practice in before we make too many assessments.”
BUFF’S BIG HIT
Two days after his massive hit on Ottawa’s Mark Stone, Dustin Byfuglien commented on the play that brought Jets fans inside MTS Centre to their feet.
“That’s hockey…. I’m glad he’s okay and everything worked out,” Byfuglien said. “You don’t see too many of those - guys coming in with that much speed coming in head down. He saw it right at the last second but there was nothing he could do. That was a solid one.”