AT THE MORNING SKATE
WINNIPEG – Simply put, the Winnipeg Jets have gotten the better of the Chicago Blackhawks this season.
And rightfully so, amid the plight of a five-game skid, it’s part of the confidence the hometown team can draw from.
This is the fourth of five meetings between these two teams, with the Jets having swept the road portion, winning all three at Chicago’s United Center by a combined score of 10-3. Michael Hutchinson, who will get the start in goal tonight, was between the pipes for all three, recording a 1.00 goals-against average, a .971 save percentage and one 33-save shutout over the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, on and on.
“We have a very healthy amount of respect for the Chicago Blackhawks,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said.
“They’ve been good, tight games. You look at the block and we’ve won our last three, but that doesn’t give you the picture of how close [the games have been], how good our goaltending has been, how hard we had to work to block that one extra shot, to get one more puck to the net. … These have been close, hard-fought and really high-paced games.”
Zach Bogosian recorded a goal and an assist the last time these teams met, back on Jan. 16 in the Windy City.
“It’s weird. They kind of bring the best out of us,” he said. “They’re a great team and it’s a good measuring stick. It makes for a fun game if we play our aggressive style. Those games that you try and outwork and out-compete teams are the most fun. We’re coming off a good game in Vancouver. It was obviously not the outcome we wanted, but I thought we played that physical style – aggressive, in your face.
“We’ve got to make sure we get back on the winning side of things, so we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go and do that again here tonight.”
The Jets are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, while the Hawks, who are three points better in the Central Division standings, have been shut out in back-to-back games for the first time in eight seasons.
Overall, Chicago is 4-6-0 in its last 10.
“Lately we’ve lost our consistency and that 60-minute effort a little bit. Vancouver was better, though,” Jets defenceman Mark Stuart said. “We’re going to need that effort again tonight. We’re looking forward to turning this around. It’s not going to be easy by any means, but we’re all excited to get out there.”
Of course, the topic of the day surrounded Evander Kane and his status moving forward.
Maurice opened his pre-game press conference by announcing that he has a shoulder injury that will require season-ending surgery. As a result, Patrice Cormier was recalled yesterday from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, but will not draw into the lineup tonight.
Dustin Byfuglien will remain at forward (for now), skating alongside Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault.
“I like him on defence,” Maurice said of No. 33. “From December 5 to the All-Star Break, we were pretty darn good team and he was a big chunk of that. Big minutes, other analytics that we use, like points-per-minute against the other teams’ top scorers, high-pressure situations. … His numbers are really good. We would like to get to that point. I’ve made the decision that in this next block of time, that we have a better chance of winning this hockey game – given that our back end is as healthy as it is – with him up front.
“You’ll see an increase in Michael Frolik’s penalty kill time, and both (Frolik) and Adam Lowry will get more power-play time. We’ve dealt with injuries to Evander other forwards over the course of the year, so players that have already gone in to fill those holes will do so again.”
Corey Crawford will get the start in goal for the Blackhawks. The Montreal product is 19-12-2 on the year, along with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in 33 appearances. Crawford, 30, was on the hook for all three losses against the Jets this season, allowing seven goals on 74 shots.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com