Things in Winnipeg Jets land are not exactly rosy. After 3 straight home losses, the Jets are searching for answers while facing their longest road trip of the season. The Jets, with their record of 5-8-1 and if it weren't for the Capitals they would not only be in last place in the Southeast Division, but also last place in the Eastern Conference.
The 5 game road trip gives Winnipeg a chance to come together as a team and silence the critics, or all but eliminate their chances of making the playoffs. The Jets' road trip will start tonight in Buffalo against a Sabres team that is also off to a slow start to the season, sitting in the basement of the Northeast Division. Their home record is 3-4-1, meaning that despite their road woes this might still be a match up the Jets can take advantage of.
Buffalo last played at home on Sunday against Pittsburgh, where they went toe-to-toe with Crosby and company but in the end lost 4-3. It's a similar story to that of Winnipeg, who took the Pens the distance but couldn't finish out. Both of these teams will be looking to take advantage of "lesser" opponents, as opposed to the Conference leaders they have recently been facing, and 2 points for either team would go a long way in the standings. A regulation loss for either team has them eying the prospect pool for top draft picks.
Buffalo is scoring goals, and offense is not the problem for the Sabres. Thomas Vanek leads the NHL with 25 points and 12 goals in 15 games.The only Winnipeg Jets player with even half that amount is Tobias Enstrom with 13, but he's out long term with a shoulder injury. Luckily for the Jets, despite all those points Vanek is only a +4, as the Sabres have been a sieve on defense. The Buffalo Sabres' 54 goals allowed is only better than the Panthers with 56, so the sputtering Jets offense has a chance to take advantage of a team that's been weak defensively. Ryan Miller has not been the weak spot, actually posting a respectable .914 save percentage, but sinks the Sabres is the fact they're dead last in the league with 33.8 shots against per game. If Winnipeg can grip their sticks a little less tightly and actually hit the net with their shots, good things could be in store.
Keys to the Game:
- Hit the net: Sounds obvious, but when your team has missed 208 shots this year, it begs repeating. 26 of those misses came on Sunday against Boston, with Zach Bogosian and Andrew Ladd leading the way with 4 apiece. Another 20 attempts were blocked, meaning that 46 shots the Jets took never made it to Tuukka Rask.
- WANTED: Average Goaltending: One can only imagine the results the Jets might have if either of their goalies were capable of playing at league average. As it stands, both Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya allow more than 10% of the shots against them into the net. On a team that struggles to score goals, you cannot have those lapses in your own end. The term "shape up or ship out" is quickly coming to mind here.
- Faceoffs: The Jets have been surprisingly good at the dot this season, sitting in 9th with a 51.6% win rate. It's also worth noting that Boston sits in 1st at 57.4%, but Winnipeg won the battle on Sunday night by winning 28 to Boston's 24. Buffalo, on the other hand, is in last place with a 44.2% win rate. Control the faceoffs, control the game.
- Thomas Vanek: Yowza, is he ever good right now. He's bound to regress a little offensively, as his 21.8% shooting percentage is a bit higher than his 15.4% career average, but he's still a sniper on a bad day, so the Jets have to be sure to wrap him up tightly or suffer the consequences. He's good against good goaltending, imagine what he's like against Pavelec. Yeechhh
- Tyler Myers: Talk about a sleeping giant. When he's not a healthy scratch, Myers has been an embarrassment to tall people everywhere. He doesn't use the body like he clearly should (see Chara, Zdeno) and has not been able to replicate the numbers offensively that he had early in his career. Don't know what the problem is, but I hope it's a problem tonight during the game.
- Silver Medal: Just because the Jets are all but guaranteed a lot of shots tonight doesn't mean they're going to be easy. America's second-string goalie can steal games like the best of them, and has been the difference in pretty much every win Buffalo has had this year. Even in their losses he makes things that make you go all Pierre McGuire/Dustin Tokarski style.
Player to boo mercilessly:
Tyler Myers because he's tall. And we all hate tall people!
Buffalo 2 - F