WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets were 3-1-1 against the Chicago Blackhawks (6-3-0) last season, but the two teams begin 2015-2016 with a clean slate against each other. But that’s not the only place where a ‘clean slate’ factors in between these two Central Division rivals.
After winning the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup, names like Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya, and Patrick Sharp are no longer on the Blackhawks roster. But even with the memories of that team wiped clean with the start of a new season, the Jets (5-3-1) know there is a reason the Blackhawks have been perennial contenders in the NHL.
“They have a game plan. They have a strategy that’s worked well for them,” said forward Drew Stafford. “So even if they have moving parts, for the most part, the message is the same with them. So we expect a challenge.”
Jets captain Andrew Ladd played for the Blackhawks from 2007-2010. Although it has been a few years since he wore their colours, he still keeps in touch with a few players from the organization.
“The things that has made them great over the years is the system they play in and the structure they play within. I think a lot of that is still the same,” said Ladd. “Obviously (they’re) one of the top defensive teams in the NHL. That’s kind of been their backbone over the years. Not much changes from our standpoint in terms of strategy against them. We need to play a fast-paced game and win a lot of pucks in the dirty areas in their end.”
No strangers to a fast-paced game, the Jets are seventh in the NHL with 29 goals for this season. But Head Coach Paul Maurice cautioned against trying to open up too much offensively against the Blackhawks, who have allowed the least amount of goals in the NHL (16), including back-to-back 1-0 wins; ‘clean slates’ if you will.
“If that’s your mindset now, we’re going to go out there and try to open these guys up, you’re going to spend a lot of time in your own end,” Maurice said following morning skate. “We, both teams, are still early enough in the year that we’re identifying how we do that against anybody, let alone a team like Chicago.
“When you play a more gifted, more skilled team, you just have to be sure that when that puck comes off your stick it’s going to a place you understand. Whether it’s on net or on someone else’s tape, you’ve got to handle that puck well.”
Stafford, who has four goals in his last four games, says the key to success tonight isn’t to worry about what Chicago can do.
“I think it’s a matter of us making sure we’re staying on our game. Worrying about our pace, our aggressiveness, our physicality,” he said. “Let them respond to that, instead of trying to play into their hands or however they’re playing. I think we’re more focused more on what we’re doing, and what we’re trying to accomplish out there.”
Tonight’s game will close out a six-game home stand for the Jets, who sit sixth in the Central, one point behind the Blackhawks. Only three points separate sixth from second place in the division, with the Nashville Predators leading the way with 15 points.
“It seems every game is so important now. Every team in our division keeps winning. It seems like we can’t really afford a losing streak here,” said Mathieu Perreault. “We’ve lost one, it’s the mentality you want to have here: ‘you never lose two in a row,’ Usually when you don’t do that, you find yourself in a good spot, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Puck drop is set for 7 pm CT at MTS Centre.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com