Photo by Scott the Hobo
Tonight’s contest against the Carolina Hurricanes is a must win for Winnipeg for two reasons:
Firstly, almost every game until the end of the season should be treated like a Game Seven as the Jets find themselves nipping at the heels of the final two Wild Card spots in the West.
And secondly, the Hurricanes aren’t very good.
Another reason one particular member of the Jets might want to win in Raleigh tonight is because he used to coach there. Twice. Yes, for the first time since his second firing, Paul Maurice returns to the Tar Heel State with his new team, the hot as heck Winnipeg Jets. While the players on the team may not have any incentive to win other than the playoffs, you can bet Maurice wants to beat the team he brought to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2002.
Though they sport a decent 6-4-0 record in their last ten games, the ‘Canes are a team the Jets should be able to beat. Winnipeg has improved a great deal since their days in the now defunct Southeast Division, with a formidable top nine forward corps and…a good defenceman or two. The Hurricanes, who haven’t made the post-season since 2009, are still struggling to find their footing this year despite the fact that they still play in the weaker Eastern Conference.
The Jets have now played ten games under Paul Maurice, boasting an 8-2-0 record. Wins have come against teams scattered throughout the standings, from the bottom-feeding Oilers and Flames, to bubble teams like the Canucks and Canadiens, to heavyweights in the Ducks and Blackhawks. Advanced stats advocates like Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com have begun measuring progress in rolling ten game samples, believing this is an accurate, approximate way to gauge the way a team and/or player may trend (his recent work on Taylor Hall’s regression this season is must-read).
This is likely when we see what these Maurice Jets are made of. The exhilleration of playing under a new coach is likely wearing off, and Winnipeg faces some stiff competition from now until the regular season’s end. The ‘Canes are a team the Jets should beat, but it can be difficult to keep your foot on the gas for this long.
- Ladd – Little – Frolik
- Thorburn – Scheifele – Wheeler
- Setoguchi – Jokinen – Byfuglien
- Tangradi – Wright – Peluso
Every line produced at least a couple of good shifts in the Montreal zone. Tangradi’s recent inclusion in the Jets line-up has resulted in the fourth line improving through the neutral zone and getting the puck deep – exactly what you want from your "energy" line. It has come at the cost of sitting O’Dell, who isn’t a superstar by any stretch of the imagination, but is certainly a better possession player than Wright or Peluso. Ideally O’Dell replaces one of those two players, but it’s nice to see Tangradi get another kick at the can.
The Jokinen line played well against the speedy Canadiens. While this isn’t the fastest line in the world, they can use their size against smaller teams, and their cycling skill against lumbering squads (though they aren’t terribly well-equipped against teams with size and speed). Byfuglien on the wing still feels like an experiment, and Setoguchi has begun to carry the puck over to his natural right side when carrying it – needless to say, it’s always an entertaining trio to watch if nothing else.
- Bogosian – Enstrom
- Stuart – Trouba
- Pardy – Ellerby
Al Montoya put in another strong effort against the Canadiens, giving the Jets two victories in his past two starts. Maurice tradtionally prefers to use his starter heavily, but Montoya’s strong performance in Chicago on January 26th earned him another start only three games later. It’s probable we see Pavelec start, but Montoya may be slowly climbing his way up the depth chart.
- Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
- Skinner -Staal – Lindholm
- Gerbe – Malhotra – Dwyer
- Bowman – Nash – Ruutu
The Hurricanes boast some top end talent, even if they aren’t acting like it this year.
Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner aren’t too far off from point-per-game paces, but it gets a bit weird after that. Defenceman Andrej Sekera sits third in teams points, while Semin, the other Staal, Tlusty, and Ruutu haven’t looked like their usual selves this year.
Nathan Gerbe started the season off strong, but has since regressed into an inconsistent producer. The rest of the bottom since aren’t exactly scoring threats either.
- Faulk – Sekera
- Liles – Hainsey
- Komisarek – Harrison
Ex-Jet Ron Hainsey has enjoyed a good comeback season with the ‘Canes. Hainsey was notoriously undervalued by the Jets, who could certainly use him on their back-end now.
Cam Ward likely returns in net after a two-game conditioning stint in the AHL after missing 13 games with a lower body injury. Trade rumours involving Ward have leaked out as of late, and ex-Bruin back-up Anton Khudobin sports a .927 SV% in 17 games this year. The ‘Canes could really use some help on forward and defence, but with the team sitting on the playoff bubble, it might be worth waiting till the off-season to get a higher return.
As I said before, this is a team the Jets should beat. While their defensive corps is comparable at present time, the Jets are playing with energy and support many teams are having a tough time handling. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook a weaker opponent, especially with the high-scoring Capitals and the gritty Blues coming down the pipe, but the Jets simply can’t afford to do that.