The sport gods are smiling down upon us today as the Bombers and the Jets both play today, hours apart! It’s a huge implication game for the Blue as the season draws to a close. It’s a statement game for the Jets, as they can’t afford to let the season slip away before October turns to November. Today’s game is unique from every other game they have played this year, no circus show is expected tonight, just a hockey game. Good.
On the surface the Hurricanes are vanilla. Yes they are a division “rival” and there was some spirited X games, but really, does anyone get fired up about Carolina? They have some really nice pieces and of course won the Stanley in 2006 but again, it’s Carolina… This is exactly what the Jets need right now. Every road game they have played has had several hundred Jets fans in attendance. They were all traditional hockey markets with large media contingents and the Jets were the story. The one exception is Phoenix where the estimate had 5,000 Winnipeg fans in attendance. Tonight there is no Habs, no Penguins, just home game #3 of 41.
Looking at the early season numbers is just depressing and you have to look hard to find some good news. The top of the list is Alexander Burmistrov who at 19 years of age leads the team in scoring with 5 points in 6 games. His line of Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood is the only line that is producing anything. I find it interesting that they have 3 centers on that line and in a way they are leaning on Antropov to shelter Burmistrov. Good coaching, but I think you will see a scenario where they have to split that line up to get the other lines going.
The team numbers are simply terrible. The Jest are last in the Eastern Conference and tied for 28th overall in the NHL standings. Winnipeg is 29th in goals scored per game and 28th in goals against per game. Folks, I don’t have to tell you that is a combination that puts you safely in the draft lottery. It’s early to be sure, but the arrows are pointing in the wrong direction. Special teams are also a nightmare as the power play is 27th in the league while the penalty kill is 26th. Worse for the Jets, the PK seems to let in that backbreaking goal at the wrong time, usually late in the game as witness in Toronto on Wednesday.
Carolina comes into the game with a 3-2-2 record good for 2nd in the division and 6th in the conference. They lost a heartbreaker last night to the Blues and the Jets need to take advantage of a tired team that had to travel in from St. Louis. Carolina have played 5 of their first 7 games on the road and tonight will be number 6. The Canes are 10th in the league for GF/G and 24th in GAA/G so tonight has the possibility of a shootout. Their power play comes in at 14th overall while the PK is 22nd. Not dominant but certainly better than the Jets so Winnipeg needs to take advantage of the penalties Carolina takes and need to stay out of the box.
Jeff Skinner is off to another great start and is thumbing his nose at the sophomore slump theory. Joni Pitkanen is off to a surprisingly torrid start and he is tied for the team lead in overall points. Franchise player Eric Staal is 4th in scoring with 4 points in 7 games but is a shocking -9. Thrasher/Jets castoff Anthony Stewart has managed 2 goals so far but has no helpers. More importantly though he has dressed for all 7 games which is huge for him. Cam Ward played last night so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brian Boucher get his 2nd start of the year.
It’s a match up of old WHA rivals…sorta. Of course Hartford moved to Carolina one year after the Jets moved to Phoenix. No official word yet as to the status of Andrew Ladd who will be a game time decision. Game time is 6.00 CST and will be on Hockey Night in Canada as one of the early games.
You can catch me today on Nation Radio via the internet at 1.20 CST. You can find the audio player here. Host Lowetide from Oilersnation and myself will be covering all things Jets from the atmosphere in the MTS to the scoring woes of Kane and the future of Scheifele.