Winnipeg – The Winnipeg Jets didn’t exactly face the “who’s who” of the National Hockey League going into the Christmas Break. Winnipeg picked up home wins over Florida and lowly Colorado before splitting a rare doubleheader in Vancouver- losing 4-1 in the opener Tuesday before coming back to win the rematch by an identical 4-1 score on Thursday.
The degree of difficulty will be increased significantly over the next two games when the Jets play in Chicago tonight, and then return home to host Columbus on Thursday. In case you had not noticed, the red-hot Blue Jackets went into the break on a 12 game winning streak and sitting atop the overall standings. The Blackhawks are the top team in the West and trail only Columbus in the President’s Trophy race nearing the midway point of the schedule. So yes, Winnipeg is about to face back to back “testers.”
Working in the Jets favour is that the Blackhawks have brought out the best in them during the first two meetings of this season. Both of which have been Winnipeg wins. the Jets shutting out Chicago 4-0 in downtown Winnipeg on November 15th and then edging the Hawks 2-1 at the United Centre on December 4th.
Connor Hellebuyck was between the pipes for both victories, turning aside 52 of the 53 shots he faced. But so outstanding were his team mates in front of him in the win at Chicago, Hellebuyck wasn’t even chosen among the Three Stars in that game. Perhaps a more telling indicator of the Jets efforts in those wins were the selections of Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba as the second and third stars in Game One, and Dustin Byfuglien as Star #3 in the rematch.
Winnipeg came as close to full strength last Thursday in Vancouver as they’ve been since early November when both Shawn Matthias and Joel Armia returned to active duty. That leaves only lineup regulars Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev on injured reserve.
After tonight, the Jets return to Winnipeg for a two game home stand that kicks off Thursday with a 7 p.m. faceoff against Columbus. The league leading Blue Jackets will be looking for their 13th straight win this evening when they host Boston.