March 16 2012 12:38PM
The latest installment in Winnipeg's 17 game playoff series (pace Noel) drops at MTS Centre this evening, and for the first time in a couple of weeks, scoreboard watching will take a back seat. After a leisurely run against a few Western Conference squads, the Jets play a team in the Eastern Conference race, and to be precise, it's the team most likely to stand as the primary impediment between the locals and the post-season.
As befits a man on vacation, we'll keep this short-ish, but there are a few points of emphasis that bear being made. It's clear from their ascent up the standings that the Caps are rolling at the moment, and it's a roll based on good play at EV. timeonice.com reveals a club that's been on the good end of business when the game has been tied. .582 is a very high number for any team to sustain, but if nothing else it does indicate that the Capitals have dominated their opposition in terms of territorial play.
The cavet to all that is the fact that Washington has, like the Jets as of late, spent a fair bit of time at home, and they've played an unimpressive array of clubs along the way. The Caps have played all of three decent teams in the last ten, and lost to two of them. The lone win came in Boston, which normally would considered a very good scalp, but the Bruins have spent the last two months receiving a rather vicious reminder of how harsh a mistress regression can be, so winning at TD Garden is not as much of a surprise as it normally might be. Still, you can only beat the teams placed in front of you, and Washington has done what's been asked of them on the way to 8th.
The only potential news from the Capitals was Alex Ovechkin's status after a practice collision with Mike Knuble yesterday, but that appears to be nothing of concern, since the Caps' talisman made the trip to the unfrozen tundra of Southern Manitoba. Nik Backstrom is still on the shelf, but his concussion issues seem to be receding, and he might be a player when the Jets hit DC next week.
For the home side, Zach Bogosian is still out, with lingering injuries taking an extended bite out of what had been a season of significant progress. It's a smart move not to push him, even with his obvious value to the team. The Jets can survive at home with a lessened roster, so the primary goal has to be getting Bogosian fit before next week's difficult roadie to Pittsburgh, Washington, and Nashville.
That means the same roster for tonight, which will also include Eric Fehr getting another chance to cement his place in the squad. He's had a terrible year, with injuries the primary culprit, but despite this season's body of work, there's a fair bit of past history to suggest he's an actual top nine NHL player when fit. The Jets really do need one or two more guys to score so that every game isn't the top-six or bust, and with that in mind, a Fehr awakening and Antropov continuing his decent play are virtual necessities if Winnipeg has any hope.
"Must win" gets overused at times, but if the Jets fall 6 back of Washington with 12 to play, that would almost certainly be an unclimable hill. In other words, like every other game the rest of the way, it's win or else, preferably without the need for extra time.
Game time is the usual 7:30, give or take a few minutes for Stacey Nattress' handiwork, with coverage on TSN Jets.