Another Hometown Hockey game for the Winnipeg Jets tonight and they haven’t gone particularly well so far this season with the Jets 0-2-0 so far on Sundays. Tonight could also be a tough task for the Jets as the Edmonton Oilers come into town with the best record in the league at 7-1-0.
Here are some things to watch for tonight…
1 ) The Oilers are actually good?
It had to happen eventually right? After something like 13 seasons of major sucktitude save for one blip in 2017 when Connor McDavid dragged the entire team into the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers actually look like a competent NHL club this year. All it took was for the team to find the right recycled NHL coach in Dave Tippett, and for the Calgary Flames to not only gift them James Neal (who had one under-performing year in Calgary), BUT also take back Milan Lucic and his horrifically bad contract off of Edmonton’s hands in what will go down as maybe the dumbest move any professional sports team in North America will do over the next decade.
That trade by the way also excuses the Oilers from having the worst hockey trade over the last ten years when they sent a future MVP in Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson who would probably be on their second defensive pairing if he wasn’t injured at the moment.
Calgary also thought it would be a great idea to sign former Oiler goalie Cam Talbot over the summer, so seeing that, former Flames goalie Mike Smith probably signed with the Oilers out of sheer spite because that would be the most Mike Smith thing he could do and in turn gave the Oilers a decent if not unstable goaltending tandem that seems to be working out ok right now.
What the hell Calgary?! I thought Edmonton was your rivals, not your personal charity case. The Oilers are good now and it’s all your fault.
2 ) Injuries force the Jets hand…
Mark Letestu is out for the foreseeable future so David Gustafsson will remain in the lineup even with the return of Bryan Little to the lineup. Anthony Bitetto is also out with an injury which means Paul Maurice had little choice but to keep Ville Heinola in the lineup.
By all rights, Gustafsson and Heinola should be in the lineup over Letestu and Bitetto anyway, but Maurice loves his veterans which meant he would likely have gone with them over the kids.
Injury… Making better lineup decisions than Paul Maurice since 1995
— Last week of Cabin season! (@Tony_MBHKY) October 15, 2019
As mentioned the Jets do get a boost with Little back in the lineup after having missed the first nine games with a concussion suffered in the preseason. While the line of Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp and Nikolaj Ehlers has been outstanding and shouldn’t be messed with, it’s likely that Little will center that second line between Ehlers and KC, while Copp dips to the third line with Jack Roslovic and Adam Lowry.
While many Jets fans won’t be happy to see that lineup switch, it’s at least worth trying to start as Ehlers is really starting to emerge as a guy who can drive a line while Connor is a finisher and both of them can help Little along. Little with Lowry and Roslovic doesn’t sound as promising.
3 ) There is reason to hope for the Jets D
Beyond the whole Heinola over Bitetto lineup change, there is reason to believe the Jets defense is starting to get their act together a little bit. You can argue that the Jets own a majority of the play against the New York Islanders on Thursday and a quick look at the 5v5 heat map from that game would suggest the Jets improved their net-front defending over the last week and a half since the last time they played the Islanders.
Compare and contrast to the Jets game against the Islanders this past Thursday…
4 ) Hellebuyck continues to be strong in goal
Connor Hellebuyck’s past five starts (save percentage):
— Scott Billeck (@ScottBilleck) October 18, 2019
Those that were quick to blame Connor Hellebuyck for not making two more saves than he did on Thursday were simply wrong. Since his sputtering start to the season, Hellebuyck has been tremendous and even in the game against Arizona you could make the argument that he was at the mercy of some really bad defense.
(I know I just said that defense was getting better, but I also pointed out that still wasn’t great. Its very much a work in progress still and is prone to bad nights)
Helle will get the start again tonight and will again need to be at his best especially against the higher end Oilers players.
5 ) Maybe try not to take any penalties at all
Connor McDavid is carving up the league early in the season as he leads in both assists and points. The last thing the Jets should be doing tonight is giving him more space to work against the league’s worst penalty kill. The Oilers power play is working at an astounding 41.67% rate (10 for 24)
The good news is that the Jets are averaging a league low 3.8 PIMs per game, but given how good the Oilers have been with the man advantage the Jets should try to stay out of the box entirely since that penalty kill isn’t showing any signs of getting better.