Jets Game Day 1: Raising Arizona

Opening night is a rivalry night for the NHL and after almost 20 years in the desert, the biggest rival of the Coyotes remains the town they left. It’s the Jets who grew up and moved away from home vs the adopted Jets we love all the same.

Last year’s opener was a sloppy 5-4 affair against the Oilers that told us more about both team’s goaltenders than we knew at the time. Losses to Ottawa (4-1) and Montreal (5-1) their first two years round out a 1-2-0 record in season openers for the Jets reborn as the team typically enters the season a bit disorganized.

But this is Paul Maurice’s first full season behind the bench. His personal record in season openers is a not inspiring at 5-8. More importantly, though, his first game as a head coach came behind the bench of the Hartford Whalers against – you guessed it – the brand new Phoenix Coyotes in October of 1996, and he coached the Whale to a 1-0 win. 

It’s our first view of Maurice’s intentions for the season with shots fired in anger, and it comes against a Dave Tippett club that lost all three contests to the Jets last year and struggled with the speed and physicality of the boys in Polar Night Blues. We can watch for Tippett to try to control the pace of the Jets’ breakout by trying to isolate the winger on the boards, and equally, for the Jets to try to create offence off the rush. This game will turn on whether Maurice can organize his team to maintain the high pace hockey that suits them. 

Lineups

Lineups come to us from Daily Faceoff.

Your Winnipeg Jets

  • Ladd – Little – Frolik
  • Kane – Scheifele – Wheeler
  • Lowry – Perreault – Byfuglien
  • Galiardi – Slater – Thorburn

Poor Galiardi. Someone has to play that wing, but all I can imagine is a sad TJ wishing he could trade places with Eric Tangradi (too soon?). 

Missing from last year’s starting lineup are Devin Setoguchi, Olli Jokinen, James Wright, and of course Tangradi. It’s hard to miss any of those guys, despite the hope we had for them at various times in their respective stretches on the tarmac. In their place are Lowry, Perreault, Byfuglien, and Galiardi. Perhaps it’s just this Jets fan, but I feel like I’m coming in with lower expectations for that foursome.

Instead, my focus is on the growth of Mark Scheifele and the emergence of Michael Frolik as a top-line option. For the first time to my memory, the Jets have given Kane a capable right winger right off the hop, and perhaps their most creative offensive centre along with them. I don’t think it’s contentious to say it’s the best top-6 the team has iced in its four year history. 

At the same time, holes persist in the top-12. The possession blackhole of the fourth line represents an old-school approach to building a roster, namely, having specialists lumped together at the bottom. Slater is the team’s preferred PK-minutes eater, despite the improvement Little brought to the unit when Slater was hurt. Thorburn is the… fighter? Funny guy? Third line left winger? I don’t know what his job is. Together, they usually represent about 5 minutes of defensive zone time at even strength.

Meanwhile, the Jets’ new-look third line is an exciting unknown. Can they play second-toughs? They have the size on the wings to play against the Hulk, but rookie Adam Lowry played centre almost exclusively a year ago, Matthieu Perreault has a bit of a question-mark resume, and Dustin Byfuglien is a ‘your mileage may vary’ mascot. 

This is the fun of October. Boy I can’t wait for Jim Slater to go sliding out of a passing lane to block a shot that’s not coming! JETS!

  • Enstrom – Bogosian
  • Stuart – Trouba
  • Clitsome – Pardy
  • Pavelec
  • Hutchinson

A year ago, this group started with Bogosian on his off-side with Trouba and Stuart on the third pairing. Adam Pardy wasn’t playing, and the team had yet to add Keaton Ellerby. Despite the huge strides made by Trouba during the year, it’s hard not to see this group as a bit less deep. The hope comes from Grant Clitsome who had an injury plagued and ineffective partial season in 2013/14. He looked like a poor man’s Enstrom in his minutes with Byfuglien two seasons ago but is already behind the 8-ball trying to live up to a $2M price tag. 

Hey! Pavelec is still the starter! 

Arizona Coyotes

Arizona’s Daily Faceoff page is here.

  • Boedker – Vermette – Doan
  • Erat – Hanzal – Moss
  • Korpikoski – Gagner – Klinkhammer
  • McMillan – Vitale – Crombeen
This team slowly erodes like a cliff face exposed to the ocean that is the internal economics of the NHL. Vrbata was the main casualty this season, but the buy-out on Mike Ribeiro doesn’t make their club better. Sam Gagner is the only new addition in the top-9, and it seemed as though Tippett wanted him as a winger due his spotty defensive work to date. Daily Faceoff has him at centre, but presumably we’ll see Gags get some PP time with the other… big?… guns?

  • Ekman-Larsson – Michalek
  • Yandle – Stone
  • Summers – Murphy
  • Smith
  • Dubnyk

Hey! There’s our old pal Devan Dubnyk! Sadly for the Jets, Mike Smith gets the start. 

The Coyotes defence group earned a lot of praise last season, with OEL emerging as an elite-calibre two-way defender and Keith Yandle sporting 53 points. Of course, Yandle was also -23 and the group as a whole has lost veterans in Derek Morris and Rotislav Klesla (the quality of those veterans can be debated, of course). Michael Stone (24 years old, 123 GP), Chris Summers (26 years old, 47 GP) and Connor Murphy (21 years old, 30 GP) will be expected to pick up the slack. 

The strength of Tippett teams is their attention to detail. They’re on the right side of the puck, they manage their angles well, body position is well rehearsed. That’s usually something that younger players are not as good at. With the drop in pure skill from a season ago (where they still only managed to be 20th in goals for), it looks like a long year for the Desert Dogs.   

Predictions

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Coyotes are a team that shouldn’t ever be counted out. They can grind a game to a stand still in the neutral zone, and it only takes a few bad penalties or a mistake or two to turn the tide against their opponent. But realistically, the Jets are a better club that is well suited to run roughshod over the high-offensive zone isolation forecheck used by Tippett in years past. We should see a lot of two-on-two situations for the Jets, and they have the firepower to make that dangerous against an inexperienced defence group. Jets win 4-2.

OBVIOUS PREDICTION: Dustin Byfuglien gets a goal and an assist – both on the powerplay while playing defence. Afterward, pundits applaud themselves for suggesting he be moved to forward last year.

NOT SO OBVIOUS PREDICTION: Sam Gagner is a better hockey player than it looked like when he got shuffled for odds-and-ends this summer. He and Korpikoski combine for both Coyote goals – one against the Stuart pairing and one against the Clitsome duo.