JGD 20.0: Paulie Walnuts (likely) returns to action on Black Friday (2:30 pm CT, TSN 3)
Photo credit:Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
By Thomas Hall1 year ago
To everyone celebrating Black Friday: First, good luck and happy shopping. Second, let’s all enjoy some afternoon hockey, most notably, this matinee affair between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild.
For Winnipeg, they’re coming into this matchup having lost four straight games, including a disappointing 3-0 shutout loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets back on Wednesday. Since this team is set to play on back-to-back days, with their next contest scheduled for Saturday against the Calgary Flames, winning the first game of this series has suddenly become even more vital.
On the other side of the rink, Minnesota is coming off a pair of games that required shootouts, one they won and one they lost, and own a 7-3-1 record since the start of November. As a result, they’re currently positioned first in the Central Division, albeit, with just a three-point advantage over the rest of the competition.
While these two franchises haven’t faced each other in over a month, considering their first meeting ended chaotically in a 6-5 overtime victory for the Wild, chances are this second showdown of 2021-22 could feature plenty of fireworks once again.
For a preview of this American holiday matchup, let’s dive into three storylines that could impact this contest between the Jets and Wild:
Paul Stastny May Return From Eight-Game Absence
After missing the last eight games due to a foot injury, forward @Paul Stastny, who’s been skating with his teammates since Tuesday, could make his highly-anticipated return to the line-up against the Wild.
With puck drop scheduled for 2:30 pm CT, the Jets didn’t participate in a morning skate, meaning Stastny’s status likely won’t be revealed to the public until closer to game time, perhaps during the pre-game warmup. But as long as the 35-year-old arrives at the arena without feeling any significant soreness from the previous day, there’s a pretty strong chance he’ll dress for this contest.
If that indeed proves to be the case, coach Paul Maurice and the rest of his staff will once again be forced to make some line-up adjustments, however, that’ll likely only involve the bottom-six forwards. Assuming Stastny is positioned on the club’s third line, alongside @Adam Lowry, either @Jansen Harkins or @Evgeny Svechnikov would need to move down to the fourth line.
Needing to create an open spot, with @Riley Nash likely to remain at centre, odds are @Dominic Toninato or @Kristian Vesalainen would draw out and serve as a healthy scratch – a luxury this team hasn’t been afforded nearly enough this season.
Given that Stastny has missed so much time, at this moment, it appears he’ll only be available for one of these two games, guaranteeing no one will sit idle through this holiday weekend.
Winnipeg Shakes Up Power-Play Units
Amid what’s been a miserable stretch for the Jets’ power play, which has gone 1-for-22 since Nov. 6, the coaching staff has made some much-needed tweaks on special teams and has adjusted the personal regarding both units.
Starting with the first squad, defenceman @Neal Pionk remains the lone blueliner within this group, although @Kyle Connor and @Nikolaj Ehlers have – finally – been paired together. Along with these three skaters, they’re also joined by @Mark Scheifele and @Blake Wheeler, which will hopefully result in some immediate success.
Behind them, Winnipeg’s second power-play unit still features @Josh Morrissey, @Nate Schmidt and @Andrew Copp, but @Pierre-Luc Dubois has been added to the mix, providing this group with a reliable net-front presence. In addition, if Stastny is cleared to play, he’ll also join this second unit. If he doesn’t return, unfortunately, Nash would continue to be utilized with the man advantage.
Considering this team’s power play currently sits second-last in the league since Nov. 6, following these changes, let’s hope both units can generate significantly more scoring chances moving forward, starting with Friday’s game in Minnesota.
Prime Opportunity for Blake Wheeler to Breakout of Offensive Slump
It’s no secret Wheeler has struggled mightily at creating consistent offensive production so far this season, however, what better time for him to enjoy a successful performance than during this holiday matchup in his home state of Minnesota.
On the season, the 35-year-old has posted just five assists and 32 shots on goal through 14 contests, making matters worse, he’s been held scoreless in each of the last four games. Despite these scoring woes, based on his 15 high-danger scoring chances and 2.95 individual expected goals rate, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, it appears Winnipeg’s captain has been fairly unlucky at times in 2021-22.
Adding to his encouraging resume, Wheeler has thrived against the Wild throughout his professional career, as he’s registered 14 goals and 35 points over 38 games. In particular, six of those 35 points have come over his last three games against his hometown team, all of which occurred during the 2019-20 campaign.
Since the 6’5″ forward missed the first meeting of the season in Minnesota due to COVID-19, there’s no question he’ll be motivated to put on a notable showing with plenty of family and friends in attendance.
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