It’s year three for the Jets 2.0, but somehow visiting Edmonton makes it feel like day one for me. A rivalry renewed by moving West. Day one. Game one. Jets – Oilers on the CBC. Remember this feeling for the next time someone asks what it means to be Canadian.
Begin the Prognosticating!
The Jets 2.0 and Oilers have only faced off once – a 5-3 loss for the good guys in the MTS Centre. To date, the Jets haven’t started well either, dropping a 4-1 contest to Ottawa last year and a 5-1 contest to Montreal to open year one. Add to that, the Jets went just 1-4-3 in the pre-season and it might seem a little dark.
Is this your first pep rally?
This is just the way I like my rivalry games. The Jets are the underdog with more talent than we’ve seen on display yet. For the first time this winter, the Jets will put out both their top lines. Meanwhile, the Oilers are missing their top two centres and Ryan Smyth is on their top line like it’s 2006. I wrote just two weeks ago that these games are hard for me as someone born in Edmonton in the ’80’s. But for tonight at least, I just want to see the Jets deliver one good kick in the teeth.
Lines brought to you by new Nations Network partners Daily Faceoff. (To be honest, that’s where I was getting my lines before the Nations Network bought the site.)
- Ladd – Little – Wheeler
- Kane – Scheifele – Setoguchi
- Wright – Jokinen – Frolik
- Tangradi – Slater – Thorburn
The possible nightmare of Jokinen with Kane and Scheifele with Wright is over for now. The Jets are icing the exact team everyone knew they would before ever holding training camp. Change is scary anyway.
Wheeler was a bit banged up in the pre-season, and we haven’t seen much of this top line. From what we have seen, their chemistry and control of the play was the same as it ever was. Look for their cycle to be a significant challenge for the Oilers’ swarm defence.
Evander Kane still leads the second unit, but he has a lot more help this year than last. All three of these players are known as shooters, all from different areas of the ice. Scheifele made some waves as a goal-mouth scorer in Junior as well, but for the most part the second line is a vertical line. The transition game is where they make their mark, and even look for them to use the offensive zone vertically off the end-boards in set-zone play. That’s still Setoguchi’s specialty. The key for this line is Scheifele, who has had his head rammed into the boards too many times to count this pre-season while trying to do everything himself. If he can relax, use his teammates, and distribute from the middle, this line could be a problem for the Oilers as well.
Speaking of problems, James "Corsi Mineshaft" Wright has taken that 3LW job next to Olli "I can’t even make a joke I hate him so much" Jokinen. Frolik had an impressive pre-season, but so did Halischuk, who is somehow left off this lineup. It’s not often a RW can make up for two poor linemates (or so Flames fans tell me), and this line is going to struggle.
The fourth line was remarkable in Boston for pre-season game 7. They created offence, they traded defensive roles well, and they held formation. It’s not a collection of good hockey players, but they play Noel’s system and they bang bodies. I dare say they’re better than the scrubs the Oilers have in store tonight.
- Enstrom – Byfuglien
- Trouba – Bogosian
- Stuart – Postma
I remember a very long time ago writing that Trouba would be the second line left defenceman as soon as this season. It was because HockeyDB had him listed as left handed at the time and I’d never seen him play. Claude Noel does not enjoy the same (shameful) excuse. My eyes will be on that line as it will have to be the tough-minutes pairing (right? Will it be Postma? Buff? No…). Trouba improved over the course of the pre-season, but this is his first real NHL game and he (or maybe his partner) will be making different reads and movements than are comfortable. It’s the deep-end for this kid.
Enstrom and Byfuglien were a terrific pair in season one for the Jets with a healthy push of starting the offensive end against middle-opposition. They’re dynamic in the offensive end and extremely quick in transition. They can both carry out of the zone if they have to (or if Buff gets the urge). But they’re not a tough minutes line.
Neither is any line with Paul Postma. Or Mark Stuart for that matter. On the road, the Jets will have the matchups handed to them and the Oilers have a couple lines that could make things ugly for the Jets.
Pavelec remains employed.
- Smyth – Hall – Hemsky
- Perron – Arcobello – Eberle
- Joensuu – Gordon – Yakupov
- Gazdic – Acton – Brown
- Ference – J Schultz
- Smid – Petry
- N Schultz – Belov
Both that fouth line is a stinker. Gazdic will no doubt try to make an impression this game after being taken on waivers. That impression will be of his fist in someone’s face. I guess Thorburn continues to draw the short straw there. Perron and Eberle were incredible in the pre-season, and will continue together tonight. Hall has been relatively successful at centre, and doesn’t have a significant challenge in the Jets’ lineup. Still, that first line is an odd grouping, and serves as their tough minutes line with a combination of experience and savvy. Look for them to face the Jets’ top line most of the night.
On defence, the Oilers have made serious upgrades. Andrew Ference isn’t a typical top pairing guy, but they’ve managed to create a top 6 without any major flaws. That kind of ice sharing is the next best thing to a Chara and Co. arrangement. Dubnyk gets criticized often in that market but had a .920 sv% on a poor club last year. Can you imagine what they’d say about Pavelec?! His save percentage will be a bit hard to maintain in this Oilers’ current system, but he’s a big goalie with great mobility. Always an effective combo.
I’m terrible at predictions. Not because I get them wrong necessarily, but because just saying a score seems so reductive. So here are my predictions:
- James Wright is -1 and is also on the PK when the Oilers score their PP goal
- James Wright gets praised for ‘doing all the little things’ over a montage of him missing his lane on the forecheck, over-committing on the back check, and being late to the boards on the breakout
- Olli Jokinen skates really fast down the middle and shoots it wide, only to circle the back of the net and be behind the play. Three times he does that.
- Ladd-Little-Wheeler get the Oilers’ defence moving and pot two from the open space it creates in front
- Evander Kane gets the 5-3 winner on a breakaway in the third
Worth Reading Today
- Systems Analysis comparing the Jets’ and Oilers’ swarms
- Jason Gregor’s Game Day Post over at Oilers Nation
- Arctic Ice always has a terrific spread for your Jets’ game day
- A nostalgic take on the start of hockey season and all the life events attached