February 10 – Day 114 – Should the Blackhawks be scared of Winnipeg?

It’s not often I say this, but today is not a great day for hockey – no matter how hard Hall of Fame coach Bob Johnson tries to convince us otherwise.

There’s only two games on the schedule today, and they’re both snoozers. Both Tampa Bay at Minnesota (NBCSN/TVAS) and Chicago at Winnipeg drop the puck at 8 p.m. eastern this evening.

Of the two, I expect the contest in Manitoba to be the better tonight since it’s a divisional matchup, so off to Canada we go!

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This is the fifth game in 33-17-5 Chicago‘s six-game road trip leading up to their bye week, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak that has propelled them to the second-best mark in the Western Conference. The reason they’ve been so good? Their offense has managed 154 goals in 55 games, which ties for the 10th-best rate in the league.

Remember how Patrick Kane won the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award and the Art Ross Trophy last season for absolutely annihilating the NHL with 106 points? He may not be reaching that number again this year, but he’s still leading the pack for the Hawks. His 53 points are the most on the club. However, it’s not him scoring the puck this campaign. Instead, he’s leaving that responsibility to Marian Hossa, who’s 19 tallies are tops in Chicago (sorry Wade Megan, we’re only counting NHL goals).

The main issue for the Blackhawks continues to be their penalty kill, which ranks fourth-worst in the league and stops only 76.7% of opposing power plays. One of the few bright spots has been the play of Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has blocked 27 shots when facing the man-advantage.

Playing host this evening are the 25-27-4 Jets, who currently occupy fifth-place in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, due in part to their two-game losing skid. The biggest struggle in Winnipeg this season is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed 175 goals against – the most in the NHL.

17-13-1 Connor Hellebuyck has gotten most of the starts this season, and for good reason: he has the best save percentage and GAA in Winnipeg. Saving .909 percent of pucks for a 2.78 GAA, he stacks up (t)30th and 32nd in the league against the 47 other netminders with at least 17 appearances.

That being said, it’s been 4-4-0 Ondrej Pavelec that Paul Maurice has charged with manning the crease for the past four games, even though his .888 save percentage and 3.55 GAA are the worst marks by Jets goalies. It’ll be interesting to see who Maurice decides to give the nod against Chicago‘s solid offense.

Unfortunately, the troubles don’t stop there for Winnipeg. Even though Dustin Byfuglien has a decent 95 shot blocks to his credit to lead the squad (ties for 33rd-most in the NHL), the Jets allow 30.7 shots to reach Hellebuyck’s crease per game, the (t)12th-worst rate in the league.

Pair a poor defense with poor goaltending, and you get a miserable penalty kill. That’s the situation Winnipeg finds itself in, as it’s 76.6% kill rate in third-worst in the NHL. Fortunately for the Jets, they do have Toby Enstrom managing the defensive special team with his team-leading 22 shorthanded blocks.

The Blackhawks just got the monkey off their back in Minnesota, beating the Wild for the first time in nine games Wednesday. Now they turn their attention to the Jets, an unusual team that seems to genuinely look forward to playing the Hawks. Winnipeg has already won the first four contests between the clubs by a combined score of 14-5. They last met in Chicago on January 26, where the Jets won 5-3.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.925 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 2.31 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) should he play, Duncan Keith (34 assists [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) and Kane (36 assists [tied for third-most in the league] among 53 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Mark Scheifele (25 goals among 53 points [both tied for seventh-most in the league]).

This is a tough game to pick. Chicago is the obvious choice given their winning streak and overall superior play, but they are on the tail end of a long road trip. Winnipeg has home ice, and of course has won the last four games against the Hawks in convincing fashion. I wouldn’t bet on this game, but I’ll take the Jets to try to complete the season sweep.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud Poile (1924-2005) – This right win played for every Original Six team but Montréal, but he spent most of his days in a Toronto sweater. His most memorable season was in 1946-’47, when he won the Stanley Cup. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990 as a Builder.
  • Randy Velischek (1962-) – The 53rd-overall pick in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, this defenseman played most of his career in New Jersey. His 1984-’85 campaign in Minnesota was probably his best, as he notched 13 points while only allowing six goals.
  • Peter Popovic (1968-) – Selected by Montréal in the fifth-round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played 485 games over eight seasons in the league – most of which with the Canadiens. His 1995-’96 season was his best, marking a +21 with 14 points to his credit.
  • Mike Ribeiro (1980-) – Currently in his third season in Nashville, this center was selected 45th-overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Montréal. He’s most known for his six seasons in Dallas.
  • Jakub Kindl (1987-) – The 19th-overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Detroit, this defenseman is in his first full season with the Panthers after getting traded from the Red Wings last year.

Three coaching changes: three winning debuts. Bruce Cassidy pushed the right buttons last night in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as Boston bested the Sharks 6-3.

Third Star of the Game David Backes (Torey Krug and David Krejci) got things started quickly, burying a slap shot only 52 seconds into the game to give the Bruins an early lead. It only lasted 6:59 though, as ex-Bruin Joe Thornton (Tomas Hertl) scored his wrister to level the game. The next two goals belonged to the home team. First Star Patrice Bergeron (Backes and Brandon Carlo) took his turn first by scoring a tip-in with 4:08 remaining in the period, followed 1:39 later by Second Star David Pastrnak‘s (Bergeron) power play slap shot to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.

Justin Braun (Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau) did his best Backes impression to pull the Sharks within a tally only 1:08 after resuming play, but Boston‘s offense was more than up to the task. With 6:56 remaining in the second period, Tim Schaller (Riley Nash and Dominic Moore) scored the eventual game-winning goal, followed 6:07 later by Pastrnak’s (Bergeron and Brad Marchand) second power play goal of the game, which set the score at 5-2 going into the second intermission.

With 2:37 remaining in the game, Timo Meier (Joel Ward and Hertl) scored a wrister for his third tally of the season, but even that goal didn’t go unanswered. With exactly 30 seconds remaining in the game Marchand (Bergeron and Backes) tacked on one final goal for the Bruins.

Tuukka Rask earns the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (88.5%), while Aaron Dell takes the loss, saving 18-of-20 (90%). He replaced Martin Jones, who’d saved only nine-of-12 (75%), after the first intermission. Jones earned no decision.

Boston‘s win is the second in three days by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series to improve the hosts’ record to 61-37-18, 10 points better than the roadies.

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