Things need to change very early here in 2017 for the Winnipeg Jets to have any hope at the playoffs. Heck, things are going to need to change if they’re going to improve on the disappointing 35-38-9 record posted last season. It all starts with an east-coast road trip, and we all know how that went last time, don’t we? Let’s see what is in store for the Jets this time around.
This east coast trip will begin with a back-to-back in Florida against the Lightning and Panthers and will conclude with an odd Saturday afternoon matinee in Buffalo. The Jets come in to 2017 on a low note, having lost two in a row to Columbus and the New York Islanders and are currently sitting at 17-19-3, three points shy of the wild card line in the Western Conference. Wins are going to need to start coming quickly if the team wants to be able to regard this season as a success.
Tuesday, January 3, @ Tampa Bay Lightning, Amalie Arena, 6:30pm (TSN3, TSN1290)
The Lightning, winners of four of their last six, are coming off a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve. They sit at 19-15-4 and are 4th in the Atlantic division and are trying to catch the Flyers in the Eastern wild card chase. They have been without Steven Stamko since mid-November, and are now also missing goaltender Ben Bishop, placed on IR on Dec 20. The Lightning are also facing injuries to Brayden Piint and Cedric Paquette up the middle, as well as right winger Ryan Callahan. 23 year old Nikita Kucherov leads the team in scoring (13-22–35) followed closely by defenceman Victor Hedman (7-26–33). Andrei Vasilevskiy will undoubtedly get the start in net and he is 17-10-5 in his 19 appearances this season, with a .918SV% and a 2.48GAA. The Lightning are top-ten in the league in goals-for so this will be a tough test for the Jets. This will be the first meeting of the year between the two clubs (they’ll meet again Feb 11 back in Winnipeg).
Wednesday, January 4, @ Florida Panthers, BB&T Center, 6:00pm (SN, TSN1290)
When these two met on December 15, Mathieu Perreault scored the shootout winner in the sixth round and the Jets were awarded 2 points with a 4-3 win. They’ll be looking to do something similar as they head into Sunrise on their sixth back-to-back of the season (they are 2-2-1 in the second game of their 5 previous back-to-back situations). The Panthers are 16-14-8 and they are running at fake-.500 under Tom Rowe, whereas they’d been 11-9-1 in the first 21 games of the season under Gerard Gallant. In their most recent contest on New Year’s Eve, the Panthers beat Dallas 3-1 to snap a four game losing skid (though they’d gotten the loser point in the final three games of that streak). Aleksander Barkov, Florida’s leading scorer (and former linemate of Patrick Laine), has been placed on IR with a lower body injury and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks. That leaves Jon Marchesseault (11-13–24) and Jaromir Jagr (7-16–23) as the active leading scorers. Between the pipes, Florida has sent out Roberto Luongo 25 times (11-9-5, .920SV%, 2.42GAA) while Manitoba boy James Reimer has gotten 13 starts (5-5-3, .915SV%, 2.60GAA).
Saturday, January 7, @ Buffalo Sabres, First Niagara Center, 12:00 (TSN3, TSN1290)
This game will once and for all settle the argument on who won the trade, right? Ok, no, it won’t, but it should mark the first time this season that Evander Kane gets to face his old team, and it might finally give him the chance he needs to fight Blake Wheeler. Buffalo is one of three teams in the NHL who are earning less points per game than the Jets. They sit at 13-15-8 and have lost 7 of their last 10. The Sabres are led in scoring by defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen (3-22–25), winger Kyle Okposo (10-13–23), and centre Sam Reinhart (8-14–22). Goaltender Robin Lehner is 8-12-5 in his 26 starts, with a .921SV% and 2.51GAA. Backup Anders Nilsson is 5-3-3 in his 11 starts, posting a .925 and 2.47. These two teams have met in Winnipeg already this season (weirdly enough, it was also a matinee, a game I was at!); a game that Buffalo won 3-1 behind two goals from Okposo.
Further On Down the Road: The Jets needneedneed points this week, just like they will next week when they face the Flames and Habs at home, before heading west for three games in four nights against the Coyotes, Kings, and Sharks.