After going 0-3-0 on their recent road trip, including two losses to divisional rivals, the Winnipeg Jets are looking to bounce back at home against the Florida Panthers. The Jets looked abysmal on their road swing, getting outscored 18-9 while making too many giveaways, taking too many penalties, and playing a poor ("poor" is probably generous, actually) penalty kill. And while the team in front of him didn't play particularly well, Ondrej Pavelec, for his part, stopped a mere 59 of the 73 shots (.808 SV%) that he faced.
Tonight the Jets face a Florida Panthers team that's won two games in a row after a slow start, including a 6-3 win against the Jets in Florida. Stephen Weiss, who missed the tilt last week due to a groin injury, is expected to be in the lineup. With Weiss and Kris Versteeg both back from injury, the Panthers' top line once again resembles last year's trio, a group that each recorded 50+ points.
The Winnipeg Jets will have a tough task on their hands, particularly if Dustin Byfuglien misses his third straight game (as is expected). With both Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian out, the Jets' defense has been playing above its pay grade and with the odd exception, have struggled mightily.
Finally, this could be the last time that we see Mark Scheifele in a Winnipeg Jets uniform this season.
Keys to the Game:
Limit the Penalties: The Jets have a league-worst 59.3% penalty kill, and no, that's not a typo. The best way to prevent giving up power play goals? Stop taking penalties.
Ondrej Pavelec: The Jets' defense certainly has room for improvement, but they need Pavelec to help them out too. Regardless of how well your defense plays, if your goaltender is only stopping 80% of the shots he faces, you're going to lose.
Claude Noel's player utilization: Playing at home with the last change, Claude Noel can shelter his weaker defensive pairings and limit their exposure to Florida's top players. Some more favourable match-ups might be enough to patch the Jets' leaky defense.
Start Strong: Even in the games they've won, the Jets have given up early leads. Silencing Winnipeg's crowd will be helpful. And with the Jets playing a shaky-looking defense and shakier-looking goaltender, if the Panthers pile it on in the opening frame, they could effectively end this game early.
Pressure the Jets' D: The Jets have struggled with penalties lately and have a league-worst penalty kill (in a small sample size) that wasn't very good last year either. The Panthers, meanwhile, have a top 10 power play and have their top unit back together. Jets penalties could lead to great success (for the Panthers, or utter disaster, depending on your allegiances).
Get Traffic in front of Pavelec: One of the reasons for Ondrej Pavelec's recent struggles has been his seeming inability to track the puck, particularly trough traffic. If big bodies like Peter Mueller, Tomas Kopecky, and Shawn Matthias get in front of the net, it could be a rough night for Ondrej Pavelec.
Player to boo mercilessly:
Kris Versteeg. He is the Red Baron, as far as this team is concerned; an absolute Jets killer. In 14 career games vs. the Jets/Thrashers franchise, Versteeg has racked up 9 goals and 9 assists, more than against any other opponent. And because he is annoying.
Winnipeg Jets 4
Florida Panthers 3 - F