A Look Ahead: Luckily, Tougher Opponents are Coming!

The three game win streak didn’t get a chance to become a four game win streak as the Jets once again laid an egg against a bottom-feeder. Luckily, a couple top-tier teams roll into town this week, so maybe the ‘good Jets’ will show up.

The Jets have played some great hockey against some of the tougher opponents (4-0 against Chicago, 3-0 vs St. Louis) but too often this season they’ve stunk the joint up against teams they should be able to handle. Just off the top of my head there was that Sunday afternoon game at home against Buffalo in late October, the New Year’s Eve game at home against the Islanders, in Buffalo in early January, giving up four in the first in a loss in Arizona, and then Saturday afternoon in Colorado. And that’s not even counting the earlier overtime loss to Colorado when Nikolaj Ehlers scored the winner into his own net. Five, maybe six, games in which the Jets should have walked away with victories but, for the most part, weren’t even in the game. Luckily, this week brings some heavyweights into the MTS Centre and a back-to-back with a team that is having a disastrous 2017.

Tuesday, February 7, vs Minnesota Wild, MTS Center, 7pm (TSN3, TSN1290)

The Minnesota Wild are 34-12-5, and trail only the Washington Capitals for most points in the league. They’ve beaten the Jets both times the teams met this year, with both of those games being in Saint Paul. The Wild have only lost three times in the last 12 games, with the worst of those coming at the hands of the Calgary Flames last Wednesday, 5-1. As has been the case in recent years, Devan Dubnyk is providing stellar goaltending for Minnesota. His record of 28-9-3 includes those two wins against the Jets, and he has a .932 save percentage to go along with a 1.99GAA, and 5 shutouts on the year. Darcy Kuemper has been serviceable in his 11 starts, going 6-3-2, with a .907 and a 3.16. The Wild have given up the second fewest goals in the league and have scored the third most. They get goals from all over; they have three guys with 16 goals (Staal, Koivu, and Zucker) and two with 15 (Granlund and Neiderreiter). Team points leaders are Granlund (15-33–48) and Staal (16-26–42). The only real injury of mention for the Wild is to Jonas Brodin, who went down mid-January with a broken finger and isn’t expected back for a couple more weeks. 

Friday, February 10, vs Chicago Blackhawks, MTS Centre, 7PM (TSN3, TSN1290)

The Blackhawks will come into the MTS Centre on Friday with something to prove, as they can’t be happy about having lost to the Jets four times this season. It will be interesting to see what the Jets will do in net for this one, as Connor Hellebuyck has gone 4-0 in those previous games, stopping 124 of the 129 shots the Blackhawks have put on him. But Connor Hellebuyck has not gotten many starts recently, with his last start against a team other than the Blackhawks was last on January 13, a 6-3 loss to the Coyotes. This game against the ‘Hawks is the first half of a back-to-back, however, so it seems likely that Hellebuyck should get a start in here somewhere. Chicago has gone 32-13-5 against the rest of the league, and their 69 points puts them second in the Central division. They’ve won two in a row, including a 5-3 win in Dallas Saturday night. They will head to Minnesota to face the Wild on Wednesday.

Saturday, February 11, vs Tampa Bay Lightning, MTS Centre, 6PM (Sportsnet, TSN1290)

A rare home weekend back-to-back sees the dropping-like-a-rock Lighting come to town on Saturday. Tampa Bay will be in the second game of their own back-to-back, as they are in Saint Paul to take on the Wild Friday night (a fun little quirk of the schedule sees Chicago in Minnesota on Wednesday, too, as these three teams trade opponents all week). The Lightning have went 3-9-2 in January, and started February with a loss, too, before scratching out a shootout win in Anaheim on Saturday. They’ll face the Kings in LA on Tuesday before flying into Minnesota for their game against the Wild on Friday night. Winger Ondrej Palat missed the Anaheim game with an undisclosed injury and his status for this week in unknown. Steven Stamkos has been out since mid-November and Ryan Callahan has missed action since early January. The team scoring leader is Nikita Kucherov (19-28–47), with defenceman Victor Hedman (7-34–41) behind him. Ben Bishop (12-12-3) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (11-12-3) offer up startlingly similar stats: Vasilevskiy has a slight advantage in save percentage (.909 to Bishop’s .904), while Bishop’s 2.79GAA is just a bit better than Vasilevskiy’s (2.84).

Further On Down the Road: The homestand finishes up against the Stars, and then the Jets head out on a road trip through Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. After that, the ‘bye week’ hits with 5 days off. Minnesota comes back to town on the 28th, which is also the trade deadline. These next few weeks should be fairly action packed, as the Jets try desperately to remain within striking distance of the playoff race.