BLACKHAWKS (6-3-0) at JETS (5-3-1)
TV: CSN-CH, TSN3
WINNIPEG – The Chicago Blackhawks play their first Central Division game this season when they visit the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at MTS Centre.
Chicago has won four consecutive games. Each of its past two wins has been a 1-0 overtime win at United Center. The game Thursday is the first of back-to-back games for the Blackhawks, who visit the Minnesota Wild on Friday.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews expects a typically tight Central Division game against the Jets.
"[Winnipeg is] a team that gets better and better every year," Toews said.
Averaging 2.11 goals per game this season, the Blackhawks rank 25th in the NHL. They do not have an even-strength goal at 5-on-5 in 137:06 since Artem Anisimov scored in the first period of a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 22.
"Even though we haven't scored a ton of goals as a team nightly, I think that there is that potential there that we have a great amount of skill," Toews said. "Hopefully we'll start clicking. Scoring is all about feeling. When you're feeling lucky, things will start happening for you."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville also is not worried about the lack of offensive production.
"We certainly don't want to change too much of the way we're playing," Quenneville said. "I think we still have to get more pucks to the net. We've got to have more traffic at the net. You've got to hang around there, and [you] might get some greasy goals."
Winnipeg finishes its six-game homestand before heading out on a four-game road trip. The Jets have gone 2-2-1 on the homestand.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd said that Chicago is a familiar opponent, even with the significant turnover in personnel that occurred in the summer.
"The thing that has made them great over the years is the system that they play and the structure that they play within," Ladd said. "So, I think a lot of that is still the same.
"They're one of the top defensive teams in the NHL (a second-ranked 1.78 goals-against per game), and that has kind of been their backbone for years. Not much changes from our standpoint in terms of strategy. We need to play a fast-paced game and win a lot of pucks in the dirty areas in their end."
But trying to soften up the Blackhawks defense will be a goal for Jets coach Paul Maurice.
"We're going to go out there and see whether we can open [Chicago] up or you're going to spend a lot of time in your own end," Maurice said.
Goalie Corey Crawford will make his fifth consecutive start for the Blackhawks. Winnipeg will start goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who went 3-0-0 against Chicago last season with a 2.00 goals-against average and .935 save percentage as a rookie.
Here are the projected lineups:
Viktor Tikhonov – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin – Artem Anisimov – Patrick Kane
Teuvo Teravainen – Tanner Kero – Ryan Garbutt
Andrew Desjardins – Marcus Kruger – Andrew Shaw
Viktor Svedberg – Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Trevor Daley – David Rundblad
Injured: Duncan Keith (right knee), Michal Rozsival (left ankle)
Scratched: Bryan Bickell, Erik Gustafsson
Andrew Ladd – Bryan Little – Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault – Mark Scheifele – Nikolaj Ehlers
Alexander Burmistrov – Adam Lowry – Drew Stafford
Chris Thorburn – Andrew Copp – Nic Petan
Toby Enstrom – Dustin Byfuglien
Ben Chiarot – Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart – Jacob Trouba
Scratched: Adam Pardy, Anthony Peluso, Paul Postma
Injured: Grant Clitsome (back)
Status report: Kero is expected to make his NHL debut … Gustafsson was recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, but will not dress…Petan will replace Peluso on the fourth line.
Who's hot: Kane has a four-game points streak (two goals, four assists) … Ehlers has a four-game points streak (three goals, one assist) and has scored in each of his past three games.