So, rumour has it spring has made its presence felt in the swamps of Southern Manitoba while I’ve been wallowing in a bunch of beer and loud music. Given all of the horror stories the new Jets likely heard before the year about the relentless misery of Winnipeg’s winter, they might be entitled to think that maybe people were over-selling the hardships, since this season’s iteration has been almost uniformly mild by normal standards.
Indeed, the time spent by the club at home has been bucolic in virtually every concievable way, on and of the ice, with even the few open practices that take place away from MTS Centre populated by happy throngs. The atmosphere really is that of a small city gone a bit dotty, and the team has seemed to feed off of that joy enroute to a stellar record at home.
Friday night saw the Jets once again use the ruckus created by the patrons as a means of raising their level to meet that of a good team that was playing well. Winnipeg’s top line ran the game in fairly comprehensive fashion en route to the victory over the Capitals, with Enstrom and Byfuglien offering strong support. The big man himself authored the game winner, albeit aided by a little trickery from Burmistrov, and as Jonathan Willis pointed out earlier this week, Byfuglien is having a terrific season playing good comp.
He and his mates will get a boost on the blue this evening with the return of Zach Bogosian. The decision has to who sits is apparently one that will be made in the next hour or so, but if I were picking, Grant Clitsome would stick around. He played a nice chunk against Ovechkin Friday and came out none the worse for wear, with a solid hit on Crosby’s inferior in the bargain.
As a long time Calgary watcher, Clitsome looks like he might have a bit of Mark Giordano about him, in that he’s just strong enough and quick enough to surprise other players physically. Giordano came from nowhere to become an accomplished NHLer, and while I don’t want to get too far ahead of things, Clitsome showed signs of this in Columbus as well. The fact that he was let go by the Jackets could possibly just be more about that crap organization’s ability to get out of it’s own way than anything in particular about Clitsome himself, so there’s a chance the Jets might have found themselves with a player of value.
The challenge in front of the Jets tonight is to keep focused on their own business, because the opposition isn’t one that brings much to the table in terms of excitement. It’s been another lost year in Carolina, with the Hurricanes sitting in 13th and going nowhere fast. Injuries and a terrible start to the year sunk their season almost from day one, which has left them playing relatively meaningless games since the fall.
Carolina will also play this one absent the one bright light in their year, as Jeff Skinner sits out game two of the suspension he earned by taking a boot at Scott Nichol. Dumb, dumb, dumb, but good for Winnipeg, because his speed is always a danger. He’ll be joined on the sidelines by Jaro Spacek, who’s nursing a lower body ailment.
This game, though, really is about Winnipeg’s own ability to concentrate without any extra incentive from the other team. The Jets have played four games against Carolina this year and have looked like the better squad by a fair margin in all of them, including the one loss down in Raleigh. If the Jets bring their normal home game, the only likely reason for a loss would be goaltending, as it was the last time these teams met, but one like this simply can’t be lost no matter the circumstances if Winnipeg is getting in to the post-season.
Game time is 7:30 on TSN Jets.