It has been a difficult season for the Chicago Blackhawks, and sometimes it has been hard to find the silver lining as they are mired in last place in the Western Conference.
But as they face the Winnipeg Jets on the road on Saturday, they have found that rookie goaltender Jaxson Stauber might just be one of those shiny threads. He boosted his career record to 3-0-0 in just his third NHL start on Friday, making 23 saves en route to a 4-3 overtime victory against the Arizona Coyotes.
Blackhawks forward Caleb Jones scored the winner, assisted by Andreas Athanasiou.
It was Athanasiou’s third point of the game, finishing with a goal and two assists. He had nothing but a glowing review for the 23-year-old Stauber.
“I think its fun to watch … first three games. It’s an impressive thing,” Athanasiou following the victory. “He’s been pretty solid back there making some big saves to keep us in there.”
Saturday’s game is a quick turnaround for the Blackhawks. After the game, they jumped on a plane to Winnipeg, and coach Luke Richardson will be looking for a similar effort there.
“What we should worry about is what we need to expect from ourselves, just another solid effort,” Richardson said after the game. “We got to get our legs going [Saturday] after some travel tonight. They’re a dangerous team.”
Captain Jonathan Toews, a Winnipeg native, will remain out with a non-COVID related illness and did not join the team.
While the Blackhawks arrive in Winnipeg with a pair of games already under their belt following the NHL All-Star break, it will be the Jets’ first game since Jan. 30, when they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2.
With 11 days between games, the Jets know they likely will be a little slow out of the gate.
“We’re going to be rusty. We’re not going to hide behind that,” coach Rick Bowness said. “What we have to do to deal with that is manage the game properly, manage our individual game and manage the team game. We’ll get through it and keep the shifts short and keep the energy up as much as we can.”
Winnipeg is in a good spot when it comes to postseason positioning in the Western Conference. With 65 points, they are second in the Central Division, five points back of the Dallas Stars, but seven points ahead of the third-place Colorado Avalanche. The Jets have a game in hand on Dallas, while they have played two more than Colorado.
The Jets also know that with 30 games left on their regular-season slate, nothing is guaranteed and ahead of the start of the playoffs in mid-April. Things also could get more difficult.
“Each team gets better and better, and some teams start pushing a little more and raising their game. If you want to be a good team in this league, you’ve got to be prepared to get better every single day. We’re ready for that,” forward Nikolaj Ehlers said.
Forward Mason Appleton will return to the Jets lineup, back from a broken wrist that he suffered mid-November in Seattle.
–Field Level Media