Tonight’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets will be the fourth and final regular season meeting between the two teams, with Chicago having taken the previous three contests. To get you prepared, I’ve made a short list of things to look out for during the game.
Lucky Number 500?
Sunday night marks Patrick Kane’s 500th NHL game, and the way things have been going lately (he’s got 1 goal in hist last 12 games), Kane’s due for a goal or two. He’s historically been pretty good against this franchise, too, netting 13 points (6G, 7A) in 8 career games. Kane’s been pretty good in the past when the pressure’s on, and I’m thinking a guy’s 500th game and last in front of his home fans till after the Olympics is going to provide more than a little bit of pressure. It wouldn’t be out of the question to expect a big night from Kane tonight.
The Jets have two pretty great rookies on their team this season, and the Blackhawks would be well-served by keeping an eye on both of them, because when one scores, the other usually isn’t fair behind. Mark Scheifele has 20 points in his last 23 games – 9 in his last 9 – and Jacob Trouba leads all NHL rookies in average TOI per game, at 21:36. Both are quietly pushing their way into the Calder conversation, and could definitely be foils to the Hawks’ efforts.
Sharp Dressed Man
Patrick Sharp is undeniably having the best season of his career. Two hat tricks, named to the Canadian Olympic team, 6th in the league in goals and 11th in points – he’s finally being rewarded for the level of play that Hawks fans have known he’s capable of for years. If I was making a list of guys who could be a thorn in the Jets’ collective side tonight, I’d put him at the top.
Since Paul Maurice took over coaching the Jets, they’ve won 5 of their last 6 games, and have scored 5 goals in 3 of those wins. After the firing of Claude Noel earlier this year, the team clearly feels like they have something to prove, and as the Hawks have learned over and over again, no one takes a night off against the defending champs.
Home and Away
Tonight also marks the last home game at the United Center until March 4th – every game after this that the Blackhawks play until the Olympic break will be an away game. And everyone knows how much the Hawks like to show out for their fans on home ice, and how much the excitement of the fans, in turn, drives their performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hawks, on home ice and feeling frustrated about their recent play, really pull out all the stops tonight.