December 10, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Never mind a rivalry, there is almost no history between these Winnipeg Jets and their first-time visitors this afternoon, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
But that doesn't mean the Jets are oblivious to what they face today at the MTS Centre.
"Their offence," Jets coach Claude Noel said of the 8-2-3 Hawks. "They're a dangerous team. They play fast. They're skilled. They can execute plays and they can hurt you offensively. That would be the big thing you have to watch.
"It'll test your defence, it'll test your defensive play. You've got to be good, got to be ready."
Chicago visited the MTS Centre once before, for an exhibition game vs. Tampa Bay in September, 2010, about eight months before Winnipeg rejoined the NHL.
And the Jets have played the Blackhawks once before, that in Game No. 2 of their current existence, in October, 2011.
That game was in Chicago, and Winnipeg has played 142 times since without meeting the Hawks again, a scheduling quirk unlikely ever to be repeated.
"Yeah, it seems like a while," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said Friday. "Obviously we didn't play any of the teams from the west last year. And I know they haven't had a chance to play here yet.
"So it seems like forever now."
Now the Jets and Hawks reside in the same new division, the Central, and given the fact Chicago had not yet visited, this could be one of those games that reprises the buzz from the first Jets season with new marquee opponents and their new stars
"Maybe for the fans," Ladd said. "I'm sure they're excited to see the defending Stanley Cup champions and Jonny (Jonathan Toews), who's done some great things and is a proud Winnipegger. I'm sure they're excited to see him."
Does he have a plan for Toews today?
"Him?" Ladd, the former member of the Hawks, said with a smile. "We'll see. I'm sure we'll play him hard."
One of the two other Jets who were once Hawks, Dustin Byfuglien, hinted at the plan for Toews.
"Stay on him," Byfuglien said. "Don't give him much room. Make him work, earn every inch."
The Jets can employ that sort of style. The question is, will they?
Coming off five straight one-goal decisions, showing a mark of 1-2-2 for those efforts, Noel identified one of the issues.
"We're getting in our own way," the coach said.
The team, 5-7-2 through 14 games, must not get discouraged, Byfuglien said.
"After a while, it's just gets in you to work and sooner or later you'll get what you want, what you're working for," he said. "You just have to stick with it. You can't give up. You just have to keep going."
Dropping road games earlier this week in St. Louis and Denver -- both on late goals -- will test anyone's resolve.
"We've done some really good things to put ourselves in good spots," Ladd said. "We just need to make sure we're finishing off the games, not having those mental errors that cost us points."
And maybe a game against another elite opponent will be a good tonic.
"It's exciting," Ladd said. "Any time you get to play the defending Stanley Cup champions, it's a great challenge for us. We'll see what we're all about in this room.
"We've played some good hockey lately. We know we can play with these teams. I think it's an exciting challenge for us."
The Jets recalled defenceman Julian Melchiori from St. John's later Friday and placed Stuart on the injured reserve list, but it's likely to be Ben Chiarot, recalled earlier this week, who plays his first NHL game today.
"Just keep it simple, get engaged in the game early," Noel said about advice for Chiarot today.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 C7