A convincing win against the Wildcard
favourite Dallas Stars puts the Jets back in the conversation for their first
playoff berth (and just the second in the Atlanta franchise history). The tension
ahead of a contest against the likely Cup contending St Louis Blues could be
felt before the final horn last night. What will it take for the Jets to earn two points against the league’s top team?
During the game against Dallas, play by
play man Dennis Beyak delivered a list of missing bodies to suggest the team
had risen above a challenge. It read like a who’s-who of roster problems. Scheifele and Clitsome are missed, no doubt (assuming last year’s
version of Clitsome). Beyond that, the Jets are without a host of players with
two-left skates and a handful of suspected saboteurs. James
Wright, Chris Thorburn, Jim Slater, John Albert, Paul Postma, and Ondrej Pavelec are all injured or benched. We might disagree about how good or bad these
players are, but the fact is that each one is replaceable through waivers and the
free agency dregs in August.
The result of missing so many
coach-favourites last night was three lines that made sense, and a variety-hour fourth line
that put some rubber on net.
Still, for all the momentum of four-line
success one night ago, the season stats don’t favour the good guys. The Blues
have taken points in each of the previous four contests, losing one in the skills
competition during Andrew Ladd’s tremendous shootout run early in the year.
They’re first in the league standings, 5th on the powerplay, second
on the PK, second in goals for per game, and third in goals against per game.
Oh, and they went out and got a better goaltender at the deadline.
The Jets don’t have a great history in
these do-or-die moments, with last year’s collapse against Washington in a home-and-home
series sticking out as an obvious example. But their one win against St Louis came when Noel shortened the bench – an unintended consequence of the current injury troubles. The team’s share of shots improves
with Montoya in net, not to mention their save percentage and goals against
rate. Every line looked dangerous for the Jets last night, and they’ll need to
take advantage of the few opportunities St Louis gives up in order to stay in
If there was ever a moment the Jets could
beat the Blues, it’s now, while the press box is crammed full of the also-rans.
- Ladd – Little – Frolik
- Kane – O’Dell – Setoguchi
- Byfuglien – Jokinen – Wheeler
- Tangradi – Cormier – Peluso
Word on the street (Twitter St.) has Tangradi in for Halischuk as the only change to the lineup. Halischuk was the team’s worst corsi player last night (4 attempts for, 9 against while on the ice) and his name carries more weight than his play. His name doesn’t carry much weight, so the bigger, more puck conscious Tangradi is an improvement against a team that excels in the dirty areas along the boards.
Eric O’Dell thought he earned his third goal of the season on a bouncer that hit the post last night, but it didn’t matter that it fell away. He made his case as an offensive player. He jumped from under 4 minutes in 7 shifts against New York to 15:36 and 20 shifts against Dallas. He looked dangerous, and his passing and determination stood out. It’s exciting to see the point-per-game AHL sniper get his chance.
- Enstrom – Bogosian
- Stuart – Trouba
- Pardy – Ellerby
Gary Lawless talked about free agents during the intermission of last night’s game and Michael Hutchinson was mentioned as the possible backup next season should the team not re-sign Montoya. It’s a bit of a scary thought (as Gary acknowledged), given that Hutch hasn’t played more than 30 games in an AHL season and is already 24. His best season was a .927 for a good Providence Bruins team. Montoya currently has a .925 in a similar role for the Winnipeg Jets. God speed, Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie.
- Schwartz – Steen – Backes
- Berglund – Sobotka – Jaskin
- Morrow – Roy – Ott
- Porter – Lapierre – Reaves
Oshie and Tarasenko are notably missing. Nevertheless, the third line reads like a 2010 All-Star line, and the team has so much structure that players can move up and down with success. It might be the best club in the league in the ten feet around the boards.
Also missing is Magnus Paajarvi, who hasn’t had the season David Perron has, but is quietly turning into the player they hoped for – a big, fast, two-way winger.
In other words, the Blues are pretty good or whatever.
- Pietrangelo – Bouwmeester
- Jackman – Shattenkirk
- Cole – Polak
Remember the flak Bouwmeester took in Calgary for not being tough enough, for not being willing to take the hit to make the play, and for not being the difference maker he was made out to be coming out of Florida? Mike Peca said on TSN that Bouwmeester was easy to play and waves were made. Now he’s the star defender on the league’s best team. And not for lack of other stars.
Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are exceptional puck movers. Each controls the game exceptionally well, but it’s Bouwmeester’s range that has changed the dynamic of Blues. Worse news for us is that when the Jets played the Blues early in the year, Barret Jackman was struggling. He’s figured it out and returned to form as a hard-nosed, Mark Stuart-with-good-decision-making type.
It’s also the first time the Jets face Ryan Miller in a Blues uniform. He’s undefeated as a Blue (6-0-1) and has a stunning .932 sv % and 1.70GAA. Ack.
The name of the game is patience against the Blues. Where Dallas had to be beaten by putting the pressure on their defence to make plays, there isn’t a weakness to jump on. Control, precision, and patience. The Jets can trust that their current lineup has the talent to put the game away when mistakes are made.