Blackhawks pursue first win against Jets this season (Dec 27, 2016)
The Chicago Blackhawks lead the Central Division and the Western Conference and are close to first place overall in the NHL.
Excuse the Winnipeg Jets if they're not overly impressed.
The Blackhawks will try to avoid losing three straight for the first time in nearly 10 months when they meet the Jets on Tuesday night.
Chicago has not dropped three in a row since a four-game slide from March 9 to March 16. And trying to reverse course could be a difficult task for the Blackhawks, who have been outscored 6-1 in two losses to the Jets in 2016-17, including a 2-1 defeat on Dec. 4 at the United Center.
The Blackhawks are also is looking for a split of a four-game homestand. After a win over the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 18 and a one-goal loss to the Ottawa Senators two nights later, the Blackhawks dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to Colorado Avalanche, currently last in the NHL with 25 points.
Jonathan Toews scored with the man advantage -- his first goal since Nov. 6 -- and Corey Crawford, making his first appearance after missing 10 games after an appendectomy, stopped 32 shots.
"You can't win in this league without goaltending, and he's always been a part of our team having success," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Thursday's game.
Crawford has not lost at home in regulation since Oct. 12 against the St. Louis Blues, posting a 7-0-3 record with a 1.77 goals-against average and two shutouts. He was lifted midway through the third period of Chicago's 4-0 loss to the Jets on Nov. 15 in Winnipeg.
Crawford also has a 1.77 GAA in seven career outings at home against the Jets, but his record is 3-4-0. In the most recent such outing on Dec. 11, 2015, Crawford turned away all 25 shots faced in a 2-0 victory, his lone career shutout of the Jets.
Though Crawford missed most of December, Chicago is 7-3-2 this month thanks mostly to Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane.
Panarin, the reigning Calder Trophy winner, has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 12 games. That puts him in a five-way for third in the NHL in scoring for the month, one point behind Sidney Crosby and two in back of Evgeni Malkin, both of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Panarin has a seven-game points streak that includes four multi-point games. He has had five goals and eight assists during his run and leads the team with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists).
Kane has also played in 12 December games and has two goals and nine assists. Last season's Hart Trophy winner has a team-high 24 assists and is second with 34 points. He also needs three points for 700 in his career.
The statuses of Artem Anisimov and Marian Hossa, both dealing with upper-body injuries, are not immediately known. Anisimov, third on the team with 14 goals -- and a career-best six game-winners - is on injured reserve. Hossa, the team leader with 16 goals, missed the game against Colorado and is day to day.
Winnipeg (16-17-3) entered the NHL's three-day Christmas break after a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Nikolaj Ehlers had two goals for the second time in three games and finished with three points.
Ehlers is not experiencing a sophomore slump. He has 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 36 games after putting up 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 72 games as a rookie.
"A confident Nik Ehlers can go a long way," Jets coach Paul Maurice told the team's official website.
Bryan Little and Patrik Laine also scored in the win.
After just 36 NHL games, Laine needs one goal to become the third rookie in franchise history to reach 20, joining Ilya Kovalchuk (29 in 65 games) and Dany Heatley (26 in 82 games) with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001-02.
Laine scored during the shutout win over the Blackhawks in November.
No Jets player has scored more than one goal and four have multiple points against Chicago this season. Ehlers and former Blackhawks player Dustin Byfuglien each have two assists.
It wouldn't be surprising for Maurice to go with Connor Hellebuyck in goal. Hellebuyck has turned away 52 of 53 shots en route to two wins over Chicago and needs one more win to match the 13 he had in 26 games last season.