CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks shouldn't be caught off-guard when they play the Winnipeg Jets at United Center on Friday.
After losing to them in Chicago in each of their first two games, including a 5-1 defeat Dec. 23, the Blackhawks ought to know just how improved the Jets are this season. Winnipeg, which pushed its point total to 54 with a 2-1 win at the Dallas Stars on Thursday, is four points behind the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues in the Central Division and appears headed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"They're an entirely different team, I think," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who is from Winnipeg. "We'll give them credit. They played well the two times we played them but we know we have to be a lot better than we've been in games against that team. The respect factor in this next one really has to be there."
That hasn't always been necessary.
After the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets, the Blackhawks went 4-1-0 against the re-named franchise before this season. They'll play each other twice more this season, but each of those games will be played at MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The Blackhawks don't want to be swept on home ice by a division opponent, let alone one they might face in the postseason.
"We were disappointed with letting them get the second one on us," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Both of those games we were ordinary in the games and we need more energy against this team. That's the mindset. We don't want anybody coming in here thinking they can beat us three times in one season and feel good about it."
Winnipeg goalie Michael Hutchinson will make his third start against the Blackhawks this season. He is 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and .986 save percentage after the first two; he's allowed one goal on 72 shots, including a 33-save performance Nov. 2 for his first NHL shutout.
That game, a 1-0 win for the Jets, was the second half of back-to-back sets for each team. Winnipeg had won 1-0 at the New York Rangers the night before, while Chicago had lost 3-2 at the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks were swept despite outshooting the Maple Leafs and Jets by large margins.
Their rematch against Winnipeg two days before Christmas wasn't close.
The Jets dominated the first period, taking a 3-0 lead, and rolled to a 5-1 win two days after the Blackhawks were stunned by the death of Clint Reif, their assistant equipment manager.
They didn't use Reif's death or the pending holiday break as reasons for the poor start, but each might've played a role. This time there aren't excuses available. Chicago hasn't played since Sunday and only practiced twice prior to their morning skate Friday.
"They've come in here twice this year and beat us and we've got to expect a team that's going to come out flying right from the puck drop," Chicago center Andrew Shaw said. "We don't like anyone coming in our building and pulling that kind of stuff on us. They're a hard-working team and we've got to go out there and outwork them."
Winnipeg didn't have a full skate because of its back-to-back set. Goalie Corey Crawford, who was pulled in the first period of the last game against the Jets, will start for the Blackhawks.
Here are the projected lineups:
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault - Mark Scheifele - Michael Frolik
Evander Kane - Adam Lowry - Matt Halischuk
Chris Thorburn - Jim Slater - Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom - Zach Bogosian
Ben Chiarot - Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart - Jay Harrison
Scratched: TJ Galiardi, Adam Pardy, Paul Postma
Injured: Grant Clitsome (upper body), Jacob Trouba (upper body)
Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Brad Richards - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Andrew Shaw - Teuvo Teravainen
Daniel Carcillo - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
David Rundblad - Michal Rozsival
Scratched: Joakim Nordstrom, Tim Erixon
Injured: Kris Versteeg (hand), Trevor van Riemsdyk (fractured patella)
Status report: Quenneville did not give a status update on Versteeg, saying nothing had changed in his estimated recovery time of four weeks.
Who's hot: Evander Kane has scored a goal in three straight games. His shorthanded goal early in the third was the game-winner in Dallas on Thursday. … Bickell had a goal and assist Sunday and has scored five goals in the past seven games. Prior to the hot spell he had four goals in his first 36 games.