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At the Rink: Jets at Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Winnipeg Jets don't want to settle for a solid four-game road trip by merely playing the Chicago Blackhawks tough Sunday night at United Center.

They want to finish the trip on a winning note.

After a 1-4-0 start to the season, the Jets are 4-1-1 in their past six games and 2-0-1 in the first three games of this road trip, including a 1-0 shootout win at the New York Rangers on Saturday. Trailing the Blackhawks by two points in the Central Division after the same amount of games, the Jets sense a big early-season opportunity is at hand.

"The block of three games we've played on the road already were pretty darn solid," Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said Sunday evening. "This is a big night for us. We're two points behind [the Blackhawks] in the standings and we had a tough start, so we've clawed our way back into feeling a little better about ourselves, and this is a real opportunity."

The fact they're playing a back-to-back is no excuse, according to Maurice, for one simple reason: Chicago is doing the same thing, after losing 3-2 on Saturday at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"They're tired too," Maurice said. "We can say we're on the road and we've had a tough schedule, but they've had a tough schedule too. So, it's going to be a hard-fought game."

Winnipeg will start backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson for the second time this season. Ondrej Pavelec, who made 38 saves against the Rangers, is finally getting a day off after playing in all 11 Jets games to date (10 starts).

Considering the Blackhawks come into the game outshooting opponents by nearly 12 shots a game, Hutchinson probably won't get to ease into things. The last time he played was Oct. 24 in relief of Pavelec; he allowed no goals on nine shots in 18:09.

Hutchinson allowed three goals on 13 shots in 22:13 on Oct. 12 against the Los Angeles Kings in his only other start.

"[Pavelec's] played so very well for us, and we have to monitor the minutes and the number [of games] he plays," Maurice said. "Ondrej's been such a strong player for us this year. It's good that he gets a rest. The backup guy's job sometimes isn't a whole lot of fun, but [Hutchinson will] be the most rested guy in our lineup, so he should be good."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville will use No.1 goalie Corey Crawford in both games of the back-to-back. Crawford made his return to the net Saturday in Toronto after missing six games because of an upper-body injury, and Quenneville said the time off factored into his decision.

"He's fine," Quenneville said of Crawford. "He's more than fine. He likes to play all the games, to be honest with you. We gave him some extra time to get ready for his start [in Toronto] and looked at the schedule."

Chicago continues to be vexed by a scoring slump despite controlling the puck for the majority of games and outshooting opponents almost every night.

The Blackhawks, the only team in the NHL to top 40 shots five times, are averaging 2.46 goals on 38.9 shots.

The Blackhawks allowed a goal by Maple Leafs forward Peter Holland early in the third period Saturday, then spent the rest of the game intensely chasing the 3-2 deficit. They put 26 of their 47 shots on goal in the third but came away empty against Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer.

Of the 27 goals Chicago has scored, 15 happened in wins against the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators. In the other eight games, the Blackhawks have scored 14 goals (1.75 per game).

"There's some good things," Quenneville said. "I just think the way we played in the third period [Saturday night] is kind of what we're looking for, for the 60-minute game. I thought we've been pretty resilient in the games we've lost, trying to get back and get the equalizer, but for the most part our game has been a little inconsistent, sometimes in the second period, sometimes in the first period. Nailing it is something we're looking to do."

Here are the projected lineups:


Evander Kane - Mark Schiefele - Blake Wheeler

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Michael Frolik

Mathieu Perreault - Adam Lowry - Dustin Byfuglien

TJ Galiardi - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn

Toby Enstrom - Zach Bogosian

Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba

Paul Postma - Grant Clitsome

Michael Hutchinson

Ondrej Pavelec

Scratched: Adam Pardy, Matt Halischuk

Injured: Anthony Peluso (upper body)


Kris Versteeg - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp - Brad Richards - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin

Brandon Saad - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya- Niklas Hjalmarsson

Trevor van Riemsdyk - David Rundblad

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Michal Rozsival

Injured: Daniel Carcillo (knee)

Status report: It will be interesting to see how Quenneville composes his forward lines and defense pairings against the Jets. He wasn't pleased with much following the loss to the Maple Leafs. Quenneville said that "delegation of ice time" was something he could use to help send a message about careless play. Quenneville split his top pairing of Keith and Seabrook for the second half of the game against Toronto and was noncommittal about rejoining them to start against Winnipeg. ... Quenneville said he will make a decision on whether to play Rozsival or Rundblad as his sixth defender after pregame warm-ups. ... Maurice said he preferred to get Postma more experience playing in back-to-back games rather than replacing him with Pardy, who will be scratched for a third straight game.

Who's hot: Richards has a point in five of the past seven games, including his first goal with the Blackhawks in the loss to Toronto. ... Pavelec's performance against the Rangers on Saturday dropped his goals-against average from 2.52 to 2.10 and increased his save percentage from .901 to .921.

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