Marcus Kruger is set to return as the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets face off Thursday night in their fourth matchup of the 2016-17 season. Despite sitting in 28th place in the league, the Jets have given the sixth-place Blackhawks a very tough time this season. Winnipeg has come out on top in each of the previous three matchups this season, outscoring Chicago 9-2 in the process. It’s clear that the Jets play some of their best hockey against the Blackhawks, but Chicago will look to reverse their fortunes and avoid heading into the All-Star break on an 0-2 losing streak following their loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Scott Darling is 2-1-0 in his career against the Jets with a 1.89 GAA, .936 save percent as well as a shutout. He’ll get the nod in net tonight as he goes up against Connor Hellebuyck, the goalie that the Jets hope can be their netminder of the future. For the Jets and Hellebuyck, this game will be a good indicator of where the 23-year-old is in his development. In 34 games this season, Hellebuyck has compiled a 16-13-1 record with a 2.82 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. Those numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page as a future star goaltender, but it’s important to note that Hellebuyck is still very young and is playing on a Jets team that is still searching for their identity.
The Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild are both sitting securely atop the Central division with 65 and 67 points respectively. The Nashville Predators sit in third place with 54 points, and though that gap is large enough for the Blackhawks to start feeling comfortable about their playoff chances, it’s not an excuse to ease off of the gas pedal. The Jets likely won’t qualify for the playoffs with just 48 points on the year, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop playing either with intentions to build upon a young core while simultaneously playing spoiler to some division rivals in the process.
Winnipeg Jets at Chicago Blackhawks
United Center – 7:30 p.m. CT on Thursday, Jan. 26
Broadcast channels –NBCSC, CSN-CHI
2016-17 Season Series:
Nov. 15 – Blackhawks 0 – Jets 4
Dec. 4 – Jets 2 – Blackhawks 1
Dec. 27 – Jets 3 – Blackhawks 1
Winnipeg Jets – 22-25-4 – 48 points
Away Record: 9-14-3
Hot Players: Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little
Key Injuries: Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Marko Dano, Mathieu Perreault
Andrew Copp-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers-Bryan Little-Patrik Laine
Shawn Matthias-Adam Lowry-Joel Armia
Brandon Tanev- Nic Petan- Chris Thorburn
Josh Morrissey-Dustin Byfuglien
Tobias Enstrom-Jacob Trouba
Mark Stuart-Paul Postma
Chicago Blackhawks – 30-15-5 – 65 Points
Home Record: 18-6-4
Hot Players: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Nick Schmaltz-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Vinnie Hinostroza
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk
1)The Jets have beaten the Blackhawks in the first three matchups between these two clubs this season. Despite sitting on opposite ends of the standings, the Jets seem to have the Blackhawks number – a fact that Chicago would certainly like to change heading into the All-Star break.
2)Scott Darling is expected to get the start tonight while Corey Crawford gets the night off and some additional rest heading into the break. Darling has played very well this season and has excelled against the Jets in the past, holding a 2-1 record.
3)The Jets are playing in their third game in four nights. They dropped the first two games to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks but will look to rebound against the Blackhawks ahead of the All-Star break.
4)Bryan Little scores two of the Jets three goals against the Sharks on Tuesday and will look to keep his hot hand rolling against a Blackhawks team that has struggled against the Jets this season.
5)Jonathan Toews has seemingly found his offensive rhythm as of late, scoring two goals and six points in his last two games and notching one point on each of the Blackhawks goals in the process.
6)Marcus Kruger is set to return to the lineup for the Blackhawks tonight, giving them a fully healthy team for the first time in months. Kruger is the team’s best penalty killer and should return to his usual position centering the fourth line.
The Blackhawks and Jets may be sitting on opposite sides of the division standings, but that doesn’t mean this game will be a cakewalk for Chicago. The Jets find an extra gear when playing against Chicago, and though they’ve lost two-in-a-row, Winnipeg can still find a way to head into the All-Star weekend on a winning streak if they play well against the Chicago for a fourth consecutive game. Darling will have to do his part to keep the Blackhawks in this one early as the Blackhawks look to once again tie the Wild for first place in the Central division standings.