For the time ever, both professional sports teams named the Jets played against Chicago franchises on the same day. Earlier on Sunday, the NFL’s New York Jets roughed up the Chicago Bears 31-10. The NHL nightcap didn’t fair much better for the Windy City as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Chicago Blackhawks 7-2. Many of the same issues haunted the Blackhawks as other losses this season; they gave up the first goal, committed penalties after scoring, and got dominated at 5v5.
Here are three takeaways from the United Center …
1. First Goal Still Eludes Blackhawks
The Blackhawks thought they had scored the game’s first goal for just the fifth time this season, but a video review denied them. Just over six minutes into the game, Andreas Athanasiou tipped home a feed from Patrick Kane, only to have his goal taken off the board following a very brief coach’s challenge.
After a mid-first-period penalty kill, the top two lines produced some scoring chances, including another great look by Athanasiou set up by Kane, but they couldn’t get one past Connor Hellebuyck. Moments later, Jansen Harkins put one over a sprawled-out Petr Mrazek to give the Jets a 1-0 lead. This was the eighth game in a row where the Blackhawks surrendered the first goal of the game and the 17th time out of 21 games.
2. Losing the Special Teams Battle
When these two squads got together in Winnipeg back on Nov. 5, special teams were where the game was decided. The Jets scored three power-play goals and one shorthanded in a 4-0 victory. Head coach Luke Richardson knew this was an important battle to win heading into tonight’s contest.
“Staying out of the box,” he said, was a major key to victory after the morning skate. “We learned that lesson last game against them. I know their numbers aren’t great on the power play. They just haven’t been connecting. We watched some video, and they’ve been very dangerous.”
The Blackhawks killed off their lone first-period penalty, a Jack Johnson tripping call, but allowed a 5-on-3 goal in the middle frame. Seth Jones was called for a questionable tripping penalty while the Blackhawks were on the power play. Nine seconds later, Caleb Jones joined his brother in the box after a hooking infraction. Kyle Connor scored on the two-man advantage to kill the momentum gained from Taylor Raddysh’s sixth goal of the season, scored minutes earlier. Sound familiar?
Jujhar Khaira scored the first power-play goal of his career late in the second period. He now has one more power-play goal on the season than Patrick Kane. That’s a problem.
Winnipeg added a second power-play goal late in the game as Reese Johnson looked on from the box while serving a roughing penalty.
The Blackhawks did stay out of the box, for the most part. They gave the Jets just four power-play chances on the night. I’m sure Richardson would take that every game. The bigger problem is getting owned at 5v5. At full strength, the Jets finished with a 33-19 advantage in shots on goal and 50-35 in shot attempts.
3. Connor Hellebuyck Remains a Tough Nut to Crack
Winnipeg netminder Connor Hellebuyck has become a perennial Vezina Trophy finalist. He might be the best goaltender in hockey that nobody talks about. The Blackhawks sure know all about him, as he has had their number during his career.
Entering Sunday’s contest, Helleybuck was 13-7-0 versus the Blackhawks with a .921 save percentage, 2.41 goals-against average, and one shutout. That shutout came earlier this year when he stopped all 30 shots in a 4-0 win. The eight-year veteran’s 14 wins against Chicago are the most against any NHL team.