Jets vs Blackhawks: Round 3 awaits

- November 21st, 2013

It would be a good idea to have your helmet buckled up tight for this one as the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks get set for their third meeting of the season.

The Jets (10-10-3) lost their past two games (0-1-1) after reeling off a season-high four-game winning streak, while the Blackhawks (14-4-4) have dropped two of their past three, including a 5-1 thumping at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche and a 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators, sandwiched between a convincing 5-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Two angry teams, one sitting on top of the Central Division and the other sitting near the bottom, so urgency should be plentiful.The Blackhawks have owned the first two head-to-head match-ups, outscoring the Jets 9-2. And while I realize the Jets had a strong first period in the first meeting, I would argue that the scores could have been even more lopsided.

Ondrej Pavelec is back in goal for the Jets after Al Montoya played against the Flames Monday, while the Blackhawks counter with Corey Crawford.Sun columnist Paul Friesen handled the Jets coverage the past several days, including the morning skate today, but what I can tell you is that the Jets are re-inserting Matt Halischuk, likely for Anthony Peluso (who didn’t play in the third period on Monday) while the Blackhawks will get Marian Hossa back but be without playoff hero Bryan Bickell (who is week-to-week with a lower-body issue).

Here are five things I’ll be watching for tonight:

1) Can Dustin Byfuglien keep his hot streak going?The Jets blue-liner went 18 games without a goal, but has notched five during his past five games and eight points during his past seven games. He’s improved defensively, with the exception of a handful of games, but one of those came against the Blackhawks earlier this month at the United Center. You can be sure he’d like a better showing against his former teammates. Let’s see if he comes up with one.

2) Is this the night the lengthy droughts end?

Evander Kane is coming off his best game in November, with 10 shots on goal and eight hits, but he’s gone nine games without a goal (while picking up four helpers) and has been stuck on six since Oct. 26 when he scored against the Dallas Stars. Blake Wheeler has also gone nine games without denting the twine, though he does have six assists during that stretch. It’s been 22 games without a goal for rookie C Mark Scheifele, who had less than 10 minutes of ice time for just the second time this season on Monday against the Flames.

3) How will Ondrej Pavelec respond to the rest?

The last time the Jets’ starter gave up the net was after he was yanked early in the second period against the Blackhawks, giving up four goals on 14 shots. Montoya started the next two games and Pavelec responded by putting together a four-game winning streak, which was snapped Sunday in the 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild that included a breakdown on the game-winner with just over three minutes left in regulation. It’s safe to say the Jets need Pavelec to be on top of his game to have a chance to earn a point against the Blackhawks.

4) What will Jonathan Toews do for an encore?

Toews was held off the score sheet in his first NHL game in his hometown (a 5-1 win), but he scored in the second meeting (a 4-1 triumph). There was a lot of hoopla going into that first meeting and Toews likely had a few extra distractions to take care of leading up to the game. But with his team in a mini-funk, you can be sure that Toews will have a sharp focus and look to lead the charge with a big performance.

5) Will Kris Versteeg have an impact?

You can be sure there were some members of the Jets’ organization that uttered a few words out loud or in a quiet room after the Blackhawks acquired the shifty winger from the Florida Panthers. Versteeg haunted the Jets in the Southeast Division with some big offensive production and we’re about to find out if he can keep up his magic as he goes back to the club he helped win the Stanley Cup back in 2010. Versteeg has one goal and three points and three points for the Blackhawks since the trade. He had two goals and seven points in 18 games with the Panthers this season.

Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Thursday:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Olli Jokinen-Devin Setoguchi
Matt Halischuk-Mark Scheifele-Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi-James Wright-Chris Thorburn

Grant Clitsome-Dustin Byfuglien
Toby Enstrom-Keaton Ellerby
Adam Pardy-Zach Redmond

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Monotya)

Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Brandon Pirri-Patrick Kane
Kris Versteeg-Andrew Shaw-Jeremy Morin
Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford (Antti Raanta)

Categories: Hockey

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