WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- There was a time when any game against the Chicago Blackhawks was a chance for the Winnipeg Jets to gauge themselves against the NHL's best measuring stick.
How times have changed.
Now it's the Blackhawks hoping to turn their franchise around by keeping up with one of the youngest, heaviest and hardest-working teams in the league that also boasts one of the most lethal power plays.
The three Stanley Cup titles this decade are a distant memory as Chicago is on pace to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, less than two years after finishing with the best regular season record in the Western Conference and just three-and-a-half seasons removed from their most recent championship. The Blackhawks, who have the most anemic power play in the league, come to town on the heels of 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday. It was their seventh consecutive defeat, dropping their record under new coach Jeremy Colliton to 3-11-2.
It was also the third straight game in which the Blackhawks had taken a two-goal lead only to end up losing. Winger Patrick Kane was particularly frustrated at the deja vu.
"We were moving (the puck) pretty good on the power play, getting a lot of shots," he said in a post-game scrum. "They did a good job of blocking shots and we couldn't capitalize. It was kind of the same old story, though. We find a way to lose it late. Another tough loss."
The Jets, meanwhile, are coming off a 7-1 thumping of the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, a game in which they had seven different goal scorers and none of them was named Patrik Laine.
One of the most welcome developments in recent days is the play of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who had developed a nasty habit early this season of giving up a goal or two a game that would make beer-league netminders blush. His save percentage in his last three contests, however, has been north of .960 and more reminiscent of his play last year.
Laine, who scored seemingly at will in November, has failed to bulge the twine in five games in December. Arguably the league's streakiest sniper did register a couple of assists against the Flyers but he was able to contain his excitement about nearly doubling his total to five. His second helper, a sweet saucer pass to defenseman Tyler Myers, was particularly impressive.
"I don't really care about assists. I think I've shown that I'm a pretty good passer, too. I think I have good vision and I can see the plays and sometimes make the plays. Everybody is just talking about my shot and my scoring ability but I think I'm a pretty good passer, too," he said after practice on Monday.
"I've been playing hockey for many years so it doesn't always go in. Every hockey player knows that. Now it hasn't gone in for a few games but it doesn't matter. We're still winning as a team and that's the most important thing in hockey. Eventually, it will go in like you saw last month."