In the world of sports, they say you're only as good as your last game. If this is in fact the case, then the Winnipeg Jets have some serious work ahead of them today as they take to the ice against the St. Louis Blues for their last skate before the Olympic Break.
Sitting only two points out of a playoff position, the Jets let destiny slip from their hands in a third period collapse versus the Washington Capitals. The Caps, anchored by the unheralded defensive pairing of Patrick Wey and Julien Brouillette, went on to drop three unanswered third period daggers on Thursday night, defeating the Jets 4-2.
Fortunately for Winnipeg, the impact felt from their loss in Washington was minimal. The Vancouver Canucks lost as well that night and although the Phoenix Coyotes were victorious in a shutout win last night, the Jets are still only three points away from the playoff threshold.
St. Louis, for their part, have dominated the Western Conference at nearly every turn so far this season. Their 38-12-6 record is good enough for second in the Central Division (Conference III, stand up!) and only two points back of the Chicago Blackhawks with four games in hand.
Alex Steen's scoring pace has slowed a bit since a torrid start in October and November, but he still leads the Blues in points (46). Not far behind is their resident agitator David Backes who has managed to crack the twenty goal plateau for the third time in the last four years.
Jaden Schwartz is quietly having himself a stellar sophomore campaign, emerging as a constant scoring threat opposite T.J. Oshie. St. Louis's blue-line is patrolled by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, both of whom have 35+ points thus far.
Collectively, the Blues have thirteen players who have already managed +20 point years and, much like the Jets, employ a scoring by committee strategy.
But this afternoon isn't about the accolades of fifty-some games gone by. It's about the here and now. You're only as good as your last game and for the Winnipeg Jets, the onus is on their players to head into the Sochi break on a high note.
Keys to the game
Stay out of the box: St. Louis currently operates the league's second best power play (22.6%). If the Jets hope to win this game, it's imperative they stay out of the box or, failing that, muster up a great penalty killing performance like the one we saw Thursday in Washington.
Keep it close: St. Louis is among the NHL's best at engineering wins when leading after the first period. Winnipeg will have to find a way to get ahead of the Blues this afternoon and keep them in their rearview mirror, or at worst the side view mirror.
Paging Mr. Pavelec: Ed. Note: I should really check to see who the starting goalie is before writing previews. Al Montoya will get the start for the Jets this afternoon, which is good, as Ondrej Pavelec has been particularly sub-standard in four of his last five games.
St. Louis Blues
Honey Badger don't care: David Backes is the honey badger. He does not care for you. His goal is to destroy you either with his rough-and-tumble play or his scoring touch. If he can get under Winnipeg's skin, it's going to make for a long afternoon.
Hitchcock Hockey: Few teams in the NHL are coached quite as well as the St. Louis Blues who, under Ken Hitchcock, have found the formula for winning. They might not be super flashy or dazzle you with their skill but they have a knack for capitalizing on their opponents mistakes. If Winnipeg blunder's their way up-and-down the ice, advantage Hitchcock.
Oh boy, Oshie: Since the Blues have such great depth at forward, T.J. Oshie currently plays on the team's third line alongside Magnus Paajarvi and Patrik Berglund. You read that correctly, Oshie and Berglund are both third line players. Think of the match-up problems that's going to cause.
Player to boo mercilessly:
Jay Bouwmeester. Or should I say, Boooooooomeester.
Mark Scheifele scores two goals but is outperformed by Jaden Schwartz who's three point night leads St. Louis to victory.
Jets 3 - F