The Winnipeg Jets need to win on the road in order to make the post season. And even then, they'll need some help on the way to make that a reality.
This is the harsh reality that both the team and fans now face, as with 10 games remaining and just 3 of those within the friendly confine of the Hangar, the Jets must do what they have been unable to do all season if they wish to play hockey after April 7th: win on the road.
7 games on the road, and tonight's test is a big one. The Jets face a team that looks to push deep into the playoffs featuring MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin and a healthy Sidney Crosby. I'd mention some other quality names on the roster, but I choose to remain cautiously optimistic and ignoring those facts makes it easier. Don't judge me.
The pens recently had their hot streak halted at 9 consecutive wins when they lost in the last second of OT in Philadelphia on Sunday, losing an opportunity to move within striking distance of the New York Rangers, who have struggled of late without the services of Ryan Callahan, Michael Del Zotto, and most importantly Henrik Lundqvist. So while their odds of making the playoffs are very good, they would love to move up in the standings and will be hungry to face a "beatable" opponent such as Winnipeg.
Speaking of missed opportunities, if I had not received a free bobble head when I went to the Hurricanes game on Sunday I would have been completely and thoroughly annoyed by the performance the Jets displayed for their home crowd, as they relinquished a 3-2 3rd period lead to lose 4-3 and pass up on an opportunity to move equal in the standings with Washington. Instead the Jets remain at 76 points, while the Capitals won in Detroit last night to put themselves 4 puts ahead at 80. Every logical part of my mind says I should abandon hope on the playoffs. But I just refuse to surrender myself to that thought yet, so I maintain hope that the planets align, the hockey gods smile and through some fluke the Jets end up in 8th.
A boy can dream.
Keys to the Game, Player Numbers and Lineups coming up after THE JUMP
Keys to the Game:
- Be better than Sunday. Which isn't asking for much really. But the top line players need to step up. There can be no off games in a playoff race, especially one this close. Bryan Little and Kyle Wellwood could consider shooting the puck every now and then.
- Do the best with what you have. As I have minimal expectations for this game, what with the skill on the penguins roster, I am hoping that our boys can at least exchange blows with Pittsburgh. Containing Neal, Malkin, Crosby...even Cooke right now, will be a challenge but if guys like Kane, Wheeler and Ladd can step up their games, and we go without any Bustin' sightings...we could keep it respectable.
- Marc Andre Fleury is not a superstar. Nor is he as good as Lundqvist. Nor is he winning hardware of any kind on awards day...unless team related. I mean he's good and everything. But the notion that the commentators on Root Sports (or OLN or Versus or whatever it's called) that the Flower is having an MVP season is just ridiculous. There's an MVP candidate on the team. It's not Fleury.
- Special teams is always key. The fact that the Jets squandered a long 5 on 3 PP last game while allowing a shorthanded goal really sucked. On a plus, the Jets killed off both a 5 on 3 and a 5 minute major. Not bad for a typically sub par (that's being nice) penalty kill.
- Win every shift or pay the price. the pens have great depth. Their third line, even when the Croz is not on it, is capable of being at least a second line on most teams if not a top line. Cooke, Staal and Kennedy are effective in the offensive zone, and are among the best shutdown lines in the league in the defensive zone.
- Almost forgot: ANTTI MIETTINEN WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL YEAR?! 2 goals?! What was that?! Did you see Eric Fehr winning the hearts of the locals and finally realize it was time to step up? Golly.
Player to boo mercilessly: Jordan Staal. Because Eric's Better...unfortunately
Prediction: Winnipeg 2-5 Pittsburgh. I'm not coating this one with butterflies and rainbows. I expect a drubbing.
Yet I'll watch it all with blissful optimism.