The Blackhawks didn’t look to energetic heading into the Christmas break. In that game, they could possibly blame fatigue from a busy pre-holiday schedule.
There was no excuse like that for Tuesday night.
Jacob Trouba had two assists and Mark Scheifele had the game-winning goal as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Blackhawks 3-1 at the United Center. The Blackhawks were outplayed by a Jets team that flew into Chicago on Tuesday morning. While they still lead the Western Conference with 49 points, their lead is a slim one; the Minnesota Wild won their 11th in a row and are now just one point behind the Blackhawks.
It’s the second consecutive game in which the Blackhawks had a lackluster outing. They looked like a tired group on Friday, when they wrapped up their 36th game of the season. On Tuesday the Jets had more energy than them from the start. The Jets beat the Blackhawks in this one as they had the previous two, taking advantage of their opportunities and keeping the Blackhawks from creating many sustainable ones on their end.
“They got the early lead and they did what they needed to do,” coach Joel Quenneville said of the Jets. “We had some good shifts in the first, a few in the second and third but not enough sustained effort. They had more speed and the puck a lot more than we did.”
Connor Hellebuyck stopped 34 of 35 in the victory while Corey Crawford stopped 31 of 34 in the loss.
Artem Anisimov had the Blackhawks’ lone goal. In their three meetings this season, the Jets have now outscored the Blackhawks 9-2. A Blackhawks team that looked like it was getting its scoring touch coming off its last road trip has gone dry again.
“Actually, we just needed to be much better in the first period but in the second and the third we got like emotions back,” Anisimov said. “We had a couple of good shifts and after that we just started bringing but not capitalize on those moments.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Maybe, but the Blackhawks were once again looking for the perfect plays and shots again. Anisimov’s goal was a thing of beauty, a patient pause before putting the puck past a sprawled Hellebuyck. But on other chances the Blackhawks would wait too long or make ill-advised passes. During one sequence in the second period, Patrick Kane was driving to the net and, instead of shooting, passed toward Artemi Panarin. That pass was broken up.
“I just got to read that better. I gotta be able to take it to my backhand, see that the [defenseman’s] stepping up anticipating that pass and try and take a shot myself,” Kane said. “Those are just plays where you try to trust your instincts, try not to think too much about it, even if it doesn’t work out. But it could have been a good chance to shoot it, for sure.”
The Blackhawks’ game was trending in the right direction prior to their last three home games. Suddenly the United Center isn’t so friendly, as the Blackhawks are 0-2-1 in these previous three contests. The Blackhawks aren’t too worried but there’s no doubt they didn’t play anywhere near the game they should have coming out of a three-day break.
“We didn’t play terrible. We just didn’t play well enough to win. They came out hard and didn’t stop all game,” Crawford said. “We’re fine in here. Just a tough game. We wanted to come out hard after that break. It just seemed like they just had more energy tonight on their side.”