Everything’s coming up Milhouse for the Winnipeg Jets lately. In the past ten days, the Jets have hired a new coach, put together an impressive winning streak, and looked every bit like the playoff-contending team they
should could be. Yes, it appears The Little Franchise From Manitoba That Could is finally on the right track.
But hold on. What’s that up ahead on the tracks? A duck. A gigantic duck, in fact, who’s won 19 of its last 21 games, outscoring its opponents an astounding 82-46 during that stretch. This massive, all-consuming duck has one wing named "Getzlaf" and another they call "Perry", and when both of those hulking wings get going, the duck becomes unflappable.
Alright, I’ll stop with the whole train/duck thing.
The Jets recent success, while encouraging, hasn’t been against the toughest competition. During their three game winning streak, Paul Maurice’s Jets have defeated the slumping Coyotes, the lowly Flames, and the lowlier Oilers. Bruce Boudreau’s Ducks are atop the short list of the NHL’s elite teams, and have spent their season beating up on everybody who crosses their path.
This is the team everybody else should be measuring themselves next to. Or, in short, to be the man, you gotta beat the man.
Recent success aside, Winnipeg is still a little all over the map at the moment. Dustin Byfuglien is still playing forward, and though it hasn’t necessarily shown up on the score sheet yet, this isn’t a good thing. Toby Enstrom has done a remarkable job of masking the hole left by Byfuglien’s departure, but the ‘Yotes, Flames, and Oilers are not offensive juggernauts. Because of injuries, a fourth line player like Chris Thorburn has been on the second line for far too long, while more effective players remain in the minors or the press box. Pavelec’s recent positioning and rebound control suggest he’s about to give up a lot of goals real soon.
Tonight’s contest against these juggernaut Ducks could either show how far the Jets have come or expose the flaws hidden by adrenaline.
- Ladd – Little – Frolik
- Kane – Scheifele – Wheeler
- Setoguchi – Jokinen – Byfuglien
- Thorburn – O’Dell – Peluso
Evander Kane returns after missing the last four games (and the entire winning streak!) with a hand injury. Ideally, this has more of a trickle down effect than just bumping Thorburn back down to the fourth line. Byfuglien has been effective at forward, but is infinitely more valuable to the Jets on defence, where he produces points at virtually the same rate and stifles the opposition with his size and positioning. Maurice would be wise to reconsider his defensive strategy against the league’s second highest scoring team.
Scheifele’s development has accelerated ever since Matt Halischuk’s injury forced Claude Noel to stop throwing Scheifele to the wolves, and pair him instead with quality linemates in Kane/Frolik, and more recently, Blake Wheeler. Scheifele has played his best games alongside Kane and Wheeler, though at different times. This new "best-of" combination could be Winnipeg’s most dangerous line tonight.
- Bogosian – Enstrom
- Stuart – Trouba
- Pardy – Ellerby
I’m afraid this may be the game where the gaps in the back-end may be exposed. Enstrom and Bogosian have been solid, but the buck stops there. Stuart simply isn’t a top four defenceman. The spark in Trouba’s game sometimes verges into freewheeling overconfidence, and he has been taking on too much as of late, trying to carry the puck out of his zone when he shouldn’t and making long-bomb passes when a shorter – albeit less exciting – outlet pass is available. Pardy and Ellerby are a decent bottom pairing, but require sheltering, and that doesn’t really work when parts of your top-4 do as well.
It’s kind of hockey tradition to keep playing your winning hand, so Pavelec likely sees his sixth consecutive start in Anaheim. Pavelec hasn’t let in many lately, but he also hasn’t seen many shots. His game against the Oilers left something to be desired, and his SV% remains below .900. If you saw the Ducks destroy the Canucks last week 9-1, you know this has the potential to get ugly.
- Penner – Getzlaf – Perry
- Beleskey – Bonino – Silfverberg
- Palmieri – Koivu – Cogliano
- Maroon – Winnik – Jackman
Instead of doing a real analysis, I’m going to pretend this forward line-up is straight out of the Mighty Ducks movies.
Getzlaf is the Charlie Conway of the group, a skilled, heart and soul player – though not as flashy or naturally gifted as Corey Perry AKA Adam Banks AKA Cake Eater. Dustin Penner rounds out the top line as resident goofball Averman, always cracking jokes between whistles or in line at the breakfast buffet.
Nick Bonino is a career 2C, like his counterpart Guy Germaine. Matt Beleskey is mouthy crasher-and-banger Jesse Hall, and Jacob Silfverberg’s cannon of a shot makes him the team’s knuckle-pucking Russ Tyler.
Andrew Cogliano is resident speedster Luis Mendoza, only he can stop (most of the time). Saku Koivu plays with the grace of Olympic figure skater Ken Wu, and his winger Kyle Palmieri plays with all the grit of the independent Connie Moreau.
And the fourth line finishes strong with Daniel Winnik AKA Peter Mark, a gritty player who’s seen a lot in his life and isn’t afraid of anything. That works out real well, because Winnik/Mark is flanked by the Bash Brothers themselves, with Patrick Maroon taking the role of Fulton Reed and Tim Jackman as Dean Portman (Maroon is Reed because he has a better shot).
- Beauchemin – Lindhom
- Fowler – Lovejoy
- Fistric – Allen
While Perry and Getzlaf are the poster boys for any success Anaheim sees, the Ducks have truly thrived because of their somewhat suprisingly strong defensive corps. Rookie Hampus Lindholm is having a great start to his career, putting up 17 points so far, seeing some powerplay time, and playing alongside veteran Francois Beauchemin, who finished 4th in Norris Trophy voting last season.
Cam Fowler is back to his old self after a not-so-great lockout season, quarterbacking an improving first powerplay unit and steadily progressing into a franchise defenceman. Ben Lovejoy’s top-4 calibre play is making the Penguins look silly for trading him away last season for a 5th round draft pick.
Jonas Hiller is having a lights out season, but in a good way this time.
We all know this is the biggest test Paul Maurice’s Jets have yet to face, and they will likely need to play their best game of the year to contend with the Ducks. Winnipeg’s speedsters must keep pace, and Enstrom and Bogosian will have to play out of their minds to shut down Anaheim’s top line. Pavelec is perhaps the most important factor here, however, as he will no doubt see a ton of shots. The game may hinge on his ability to rise to the occasion.