JGD 17: Making Rivals

Kevin McCartney
November 06 2013 02:26PM

Chicago, 100 years ago

The Jets joining a new Division this year gave fans and the players alike an instant opportunity for meaningful rivalries based on geography and shared history. But one further ingredient is needed to build a rivalry - competition.

Can the Jets compete with Chicago?

When we talk about history, the Jets 2.0 don't have much of it. A 3-10 record against Chicago, stretching back through the Atlanta years, but just two losses since being reborn in Winnipeg. Jets 1.0 amassed a similarly unflattering 23-34-7 record against the team with the colonial name. 

In other words, Chicago is more like a big brother who teases Winnipeg than a meaningful rival at this stage.

A 5-1 drubbing this past Saturday was a testament to that relationship. A close 1st period gave fans hope, but Joel Quenneville made adjustments to their pressure areas in the intermission, and the Hawks quickly potted two goals from forced turnovers just inside their blueline and a third for luck. The game was over six minutes into the second frame.

Typically, a second chance at being embarrassed would be a somber affair for Jets fans, but an impressive performance against the Red Wings two nights ago re-ignited hope. And of all people, Al Montoya has given the fans a reason to think tonight might go a little differently than Saturday afternoon.

Lines

Jets Forwards

  • Ladd - Little - Setoguchi
  • Kane - Jokinen - Wheeler
  • Frolik - Scheifele - Halischuk
  • Tangradi - Wright - Peluso

Kane is declaring himself ready to step back into the lineup. He was questionable with the flu late last week, and suffered an undisclosed injury that happened 'a couple games ago,' said Kane vaguely. He has not been himself since the flu diagnosis October 26th, bleeding shots against like we've never seen him do. Despite evidence to the contrary on Monday, this team needs Kane to win. But they need a healthy, productive Kane. We await the results.

The Frolik/Scheifele/Halischuk line brought two goals on Monday, and have been a strong group since being put together against Colorado. Jokinen scored more with Frolik, as is Scheifele. Kane has not shown he can play well with others yet, and it might be time for the team to a Frolik/Scheifele/Wheeler second line, with Kane, Jokinen, and Halischuk as a soft minutes speed line.

Keeping the depth players sheltered has been the role of Little and Ladd for two seasons now, and early season struggles led to disaster throughout the lineup. That tandem is back to owning the puck, controlling play, and sawing off against the league's best. Another test comes against Toews and Hossa - the league's premier out-scoring two-some.

Jets Defence

  • Clitsome - Byfuglien
  • Enstrom - Bogosian
  • Pardy - Ellerby
  • Montoya
  • Pavelec

Montoya gets the start, sending an important 'earn your minutes' message to a team that needs to put together some wins. He's frankly been the better goalie by eye and math, so the only controversy is that of expectations related to salary. He even has better NHL.com material to his name. No matter how he does, there's always a Full Monty joke to be made.

Pavelec was a good buy-out candidate for this club, but as his big dollar, long term deal came from this GM in one of his first orders of business, it was always unlikely. Now, with the coach feeling the pressure to win, Pav is at risk of losing the starting job to a journeyman AHL netminder and former 6th overall draft bust. But that draft bust has a sparkling .939 sv % at the moment, and did have one season with the Islanders in which he stole the starters job and posted a .921 over 21 games.

At this point, if the Jets could get 21 games of that level, it would be a season changing event - even if Montoya returns to frog form in the back half of the season.

Pardy and Ellerby were a satisfactory pair against the Red Wings. They made simple plays, controlled flow, and took the body. They weren't -3 the way Chiarot and Pardy were, and that's about all the Jets can hope for their third pairing. Still, Zach Redmond's clock is ticking with Trouba coming back within a few weeks. His chance is now, and I have to admit that I didn't think it would be Adam Pardy or a waiver wire addition that stood in his way.

I hope we get to see Redmond sooner rather than later. With Taylor Fedun scoring his first NHL goal after a horrific injury derailed his bid to be a full-time NHL defenceman, it's hard not to cheer for Zach this week.

Chicago Forwards

  • Sharp - Toews - Hossa
  • Saad - Pirri - Kane
  • Bickell - Shaw - Morin
  • Bollig - Kruger - Smith

Aw, dammit. Ladd and Little have their work cut out for them, and the Jets don't have a defence group that can manage that top line. On the road, with Quenneville controlling the matchups, it's going to be a constant tension in the game.

The Blackhawks have a lot of lesser-known players in their bottom-9, but don't mistake it for lack of depth. Their possession numbers are excellent, and any one of their 12 forwards could start in the Jets top-9.

I focus a lot on the Jets' depth players in my analysis of the team. It may just seem like easy pickings, but the truth is that strong depth means the Chicago skill players get some shifts away from top-scorers. When they talk about putting together 60 minutes, they don't secretly mean 52 minutes, plus a fourth line we hope doesn't let a goal in. Whether you believe in corsi numbers, momentum, or the bottom line of goals for and against, having NHL quality players at every position matters. Chicago, LA, Boston all prove that.

Luck happens, of course, but successful NHL teams have 12-15 forwards who don't need to put 'chipping it out' on their resume.

Chicago Defence

  • Seabrook - Keith
  • Oduya - Hjalmarsson
  • Leddy - Brookbank
  • Crawford
  • Khabibulin

Talent abound - this group has puck skills and toughness throughout.

The Hawks rely on mobile, intelligent defencemen to make key reads in defensive transition. Unlike the Jets, Chicago creates pressure around the rink with their defencemen. The Jets need to continue their short-passing breakout from the Detroit game to maintain possession against Chicago. We saw what happens when they try the fast break - containment, isolation, and turnovers at the offensive blue line. The Jets can't hope to make a single pass or single carry through the neutral zone against the Hawks.

I really hope the Jets get to play against the Bulin Wall at some point soon. It would make these games a little easier.

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Kevin is a regular contributor to Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart
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