CHICAGO, Illinois -- After working overtime in a 2-1 win over Washington yesterday afternoon, the Winnipeg Jets (13-12-2) are right back in action today against the Chicago Blackhawks (13-9-4) at United Center.
It’s the sixth set of back-to-back games the Jets have played this season, but captain Andrew Ladd says yesterday’s earlier game time was a benefit to the Jets.
“Just having an afternoon game and be able to get to bed at a normal time helps a bit,” said Ladd. “Playing a team that we’re just behind in the standings, and have had some pretty heated battles with over the past couple years, I think everyone is excited to play the game tonight.”
Ladd scored his eighth goal of the season against Washington, and has six points in his last six games. Coach Paul Maurice said Ladd looks “quicker” than earlier in the season, which he also says describes his entire team. He says the Jets will need that today, right from the drop of the puck.
“I think we’ve had good starts in here. It’s an electric building. That works for us, especially on back-to-back,” said Maurice. “All the games with Chicago, I think we have a healthy respect for their team, as we should. We skate fast when we play them. We skate as hard as we can. We’re going to have to do that today.”
The coach is right. The Jets played three games at United Center last season, outscoring the Blackhawks 10-3, with half of the Jets goals coming in the first period. Ladd was a key part in those wins, recording five points.
Speaking of points, while the Jets try to pick up two points in the standings, they will have to work together to keep Patrick Kane from registering at least one of his own. His 21-game point streak has him tied with Bobby Hull for the Chicago franchise record.
“The interesting part about Patrick Kane is he kind of comes out of structure in the offence, then go back and pick up a loop in late. He’s hard to pick up on the way up the ice,” said Maurice. “His hand skills are just spectacular. We have to know where he is. Not sure we can get to him all night long, but we’ll keep a tight gap on him and make him work for it.”
“He’s obviously one of the best players in the league,” said Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot. “A guy like him, you have to take away the middle of the ice, keep him to the outside. Keep his chances from the outside, and give your goaltender the best chance to see his shots. He’s going to get his chances, we just have to limit them.”
Kane was the only member of the Blackhawks to beat Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson in this season’s only previous meeting between the two teams. Hutchinson made 45 saves to preserve a 3-1 Jets win, pushing his personal record against Chicago to 4-0-1.
With no morning skate today, Maurice has yet to say if it will be Hutchinson or rookie Connor Hellebuyck getting the start in goal today.
Regardless of who is in net, the Jets will want to stay out of the penalty box, and not let Chicago’s fourth-ranked power play go to work.
“They’ve got two dangerous units that can hurt you,” said Ladd. “We need to stay out of the box. Obviously you’re probably going to get a couple penalties throughout the game, and at that point your penalty kill has to come up big.”
The penalty kill units came up big against Washington yesterday, limiting their potent group (ranked second in the NHL) to one power play goal in four opportunities.
“They scored a power play goal, but they didn’t get two. That’s how good their power play is,” said Maurice. “I liked what we gave them on the PK.”
Winnipeg sits two points back of Chicago for fifth in the Central Division and the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. But Chiarot says the Jets have a lot to be confident about.
“They have a lot of good players. They’re a deep team, and their record shows that over the last few years,” he said. “We’ve had success against these guys for the most part the last year and a half, so being physical against them like we always are and matching their speed is going to be important.”
The puck drops at United Center at 4 pm CT.