January 31 2014 10:12AM
Can you tell which twin this is?
What a difference a couple of months can make.
Back in December, the Vancouver Canucks still looked like one of the NHL's elite teams. The Sedins were clicking, a playoff berth seemed like a given, and John Tortorella was lavished with praise for supposedly turning a team with a soft reputation into a team made from sandpaper.
It was also around this time the Jets were hopelessly mired in the basement of the Western Conference's Central Division, unable to string more than a few consecutive wins together let alone get themselves in the playoff picture.
But now, as we find ourselves on the cusp of February, the Canucks and Jets meet. Not just tonight at the MTS Centre, but also figuratively - imagine if you will, one spaceship skyrocketing up through the clouds as another passes by it, plummeting to the earth on an inevitable crash course.
The Jets looked quite good in a loss to the Nashville Predators this past Tuesday, continuining their upward trend in momentum since Paul Maurice replaced Claude Noel as bench boss. The Canucks, on the other hand, don't even really have a coach right now, and have had trouble beating just about anybody lately, giving up a two goal lead to the Blackhawks on Wednesday, and trading wins with the lowly Oilers last week.
The Canucks have been decimated by injuries lately. Captain Henrik Sedin was forced to snap his league-leading iron man streak due to a rib injury. News came out yesterday that ex-Jet Mike Santorelli's shoulder injury will keep him out for the rest of the season. Alexandre Burrows, David Booth, and Alex Edler have all missed time because of various injuries.
Winnipeg hasn't been quite so unlucky in that department, but received some bad news on that front when Evander Kane's previously injured hand swelled to the size of a balloon this past Monday night, keeping him out until after the Olympic break. The young winger had been tearing it up since his most recent return from injury, and his absence leaves a sizable hole in Winnipeg's forward corps.
Both teams are moving in opposite directions. The Canucks need to win tonight to stop the bleeding, and strengthen their precarious hold on the final playoff spot in the West. The Jets - who lost their last outing to a division rival - need to win to continue their playoff chase, and to continue to prove their recent winning ways isn't just a flash in the pan.
- Ladd - Little - Frolik
- Thorburn - Scheifele - Wheeler
- Setoguchi - Jokinen - Byfuglien
- Wright - O'Dell - Peluso
With the (re)injury to Kane's hand, Thorburn continues in his role as the second line understudy. He's not exactly suited to play the part, but can create room in front of the net and on the forecheck. And heck, he scored his first goal of the season last game, so...that's something.
Dustin Byfuglien has tormented the Vancouver Canucks for years, and did it as a forward to boot. His playoff battles with Roberto Luongo are legendary - or rather, lgendarily funny. Paul Maurice is a smart dude, so we shouldn't be surprised to see him park Byfuglien in front of the net like they did when he was a Blackhawk.
The fourth line hasn't seen much ice time lately, but could be more of a factor in this game considering Vancouver's injury trouble. Both teams should be fairly well rested coming into this contest, but Vancouver probably trusts their fourth line even less than Winnipeg, so the Jets could have a stamina advantage by the time the third period rolls around. They've been pretty okay in the third period lately anyway, don't you think?
- Bogosian - Enstrom
- Stuart - Trouba
- Pardy - Ellerby
Trouba has been on an offensive roll as of late with seven points in his last seven games. Him and partner Stuart haven't been entirely perfect, however, as they were to blame for two of Nashville's goals against, and are often caught out of place due to rushing (Trouba) or poor gap control (Stuart).
Pavelec figures to get the start again, but it would be a mistake for Maurice to give it to him. Pavelec's poor positioning bit the Jets in the behind in the Nashville game (and almost against Toronto last Saturday). The Jets can't afford to lose another two points to a conference rival due to bad goaltending. Montoya may not be a Vezina candidate, but he's a better option right now.
- Higgins - Kesler - Hansen
- D. Sedin - Schroeder - Burrows
- Booth - Richardson - Kassian
- Sestito - Dalpe - Weise
Injuries to centres Henrik Sedin and Mike Santorelli really thin out this group down the middle, and they were already thin to begin with. Prospect/AHLer Jordan Schroeder finds himself playing in the NHL for the first time since last season, but he has big shoes to fill in Henrik's spot.
Higgins and Hansen's player types are that of third liners, but find themselves up on the top with the inconsistent Ryan Kesler.
This group has had a lot of trouble scoring, and they won't find it much easier tonight. Even before the injury parade, the Canucks seemed to lose themselves in their search for identity, and went from one of the league's premier teams to one that could potentially miss the playoffs.
- Edler - Hamhuis
- Stanton - Garrison
- Weber - Corrado
Injuries to Chris Tanev and Kevin Bieksa affect this defensive corps as much as the forward grouping. Edler hasn't stood out under Tortorella's system like he did with former coach Alain Vigneault. Dan Hamuis was elected to the Canadian Olympic squad, but hasn't been as effective as he was in seasons past.
Newcomers Stanton, Corrado, and Weber have potential (except maybe Weber), but can hardly be expected to be a stabilizing force.
Luongo's been playing a lot when healthy, and looking pretty good doing it. As always with Luongo, he can't stop what he can't see, so the Jets should look to create a lot of traffic in front of him.
This is a hard game to predict. Even with their injury troubles, the Canucks can still score in bunches, much like the Jets. Winnipeg will need to play a full three periods of NHL calibre hockey en route to victory tonight, as the Canucks may very likely will not.