Don't look now but the Winnipeg Jets are all of the sudden making waves during their climb toward respectability. Thanks to a four-game winning streak since the hiring of Paul Maurice as head coach the Jets are just one point out of 5th place in the division and just 8 points outside of that final wildcard spot in the West - with a game in hand. The thought of playoffs, which seemed so ridiculous just a couple of weeks ago, is slowly creeping back into the conversation.
The Jets players all have family members (called "The Dad Trip") on this road trip and opened it up in style by handing the Anaheim Ducks their first home loss in regulation on Tuesday. The Jets have scored 16 goals versus just 6 goals against since the Maurice addition. Anaheim's win was notable due to the fact that the other wins were against struggling teams in Phoenix, Calgary and Edmonton. With these wins they are back at the NHL's version of .500 with a 23-23-5.
The road does not get easier tonight against the Sharks. At 32-12-6 for 70 points they are 2nd in the Pacific Division and 5th overall in the NHL. They are also riding 4 game winning streak and have won 7 of the past 10. The California teams are giving their stats a reputation as an impossible place to play, with San Jose being no exception. Their record is 17-2-3 at home this year. Despite still missing star rookie Tomas Hertl up front the Sharks have plenty of firepower. "Little Joe" Pavelski is 2nd in the NHL with 27 goals and "Jumbo Joe" Thornton is leading the NHL with 47 assists. Canadian Olympian Marc-Eduard Vlasic leads the team on the back end with strong two-way play and last year's Vezina nominee Antti Niemi continues to be solid sitting 2nd in the NHL with 26 wins.
This is the Jet's first visit to San Jose since the move. They lost 2-0 to the Sharks on January 12th, 2012 and earlier this year won 5-4 in a shootout on November 10th, 2013. Andrew Ladd scored the winning goal in the shootout on top of scoring with 1:43 left in regulation to tie the game. That was the Sharks lone visit to MTS Centre this year and this is the first of two games the Jets will play in San Jose.
Keys to the Game
1) Bottle up San Jose's skating D. San Jose has some very effective puck moving D (Demers, Vlasic, Boyle, Irwin, Braun). It is very important not let these dictate the play and take away their time and space.
2) Continue to activate the Jets D. Since the hiring of Maurice Bogosian, Enstrom and Trouba have been let off the leash a little bit. This has resulted in them pushing the play up very effectively and the Jets have been able to start to dictate the play more. This needs to contine.
3) Contain the Joes. Fairly obvious, these two guys make the Sharks go. They need to take away their time and space and eliminate these guys from the equation. There are plenty of playmakers on the Sharks, but these guys are the best.
1) Pounce on the Jets early. Despite the 4 game winning streak the Jets were under siege the entire game against the Ducks. This might leave them tired and somewhat wary of playing that game again. Jumping on the Jets early might rattle them.
2) Expose the depth players. Ellerby, Pardy, Peluso, Thorburn, O'Dell were all benched in Anaheim. The bottom end of the Jets roster is struggling to keep up. Use the last change advantage and take advantage of that.
3) Get in Pavelec's head. He is playing more confident, but as we've seen many times it's a fragile confidence. Get in his head, get to the net and bury those rebounds he kicks out.
Player to Boo Mericilessly
Joe Thornton. Because there is nobody that wants to see what happens if he happens to score 4 goals.