The Mighty Jets of Winnipeg return to action tonight as they take on, what I can only presume to be, Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have had a bit of a goaltending controversy of late, with Jhonas Enroth doing well enough to see Ryan Miller ride the pine in consecutive games while healthy for the first time since February 2007. That being said, I'm thinking it's Miller Time tonight in Buffalo. Backup goalies don't seem to have any issue with the Jets (see, Martin Biron) so I'm hoping we have our way with their "starter".
And the Jets should have their secret weapon back in the lineup. The Man. The Myth. The Legend. NIK ANTROPOV! That's right, the man who leads your Winnipeg Jets in scoring despite missing 2 games with a hand injury looks to return to the lineup. He took part in an optional skate on Monday and seems to be good to go, which is great for all fans of BAK in the USSR. That line name only really makes sense if he's on the line.
At this point I see Paul Postma dropping out of the lineup to make way for the Tower of Kazakhstan, as the Postman only registered 1 minute and 51 seconds of Time on the Ice last game, barely beating out Peter Mannino. But the Postman doesn't deliver on Sunday so I guess that was to be expected.
Speaking of Mannino, Chris Mason is very close to returning to action and could be active as soon as tonight, which is good news because Pavelec can only stand on his head so long before he fatigues. And if we're going to make a deep run into the playoffs we can't afford that.
Buffalo is coming off a 3-2 shootout win against the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday night. Their top line of Vanek, Adam and Pominville has proven to be quite effective (as top lines should be) this year and have amassed 42 points between the 3 of them. Ladd's Little Wheeler has 12. I don't want to say this is going to be a long night, but if the Jets are going to hang tough Dustin Byfuglien has to start proving the haters wrong, combined with solid play from the other 5 defenders and hopefully get the ole powerplay going.
Keys to the game after the jump
KEYS TO THE GAME:
- Special teams: Staying out of the penalty box is key to any team winning. The PK unit rose to the occasion big time against the Rangers on an extended 5 on 3 that saw Ondrej Pavelec and Johnny Oduya play like gods instead of goats. The power play also has to get rolling, and if that means removing Steam Punk(Tim Stapleton) from the top unit, so be it.
- Dustin Byfuglien: If he's a star of the team, he has to step it up. I don't care if it's pretty, I just want it to be effective.
- Ladd's Little Wheeler: The funk stops here. I proclaim all slumps to be over and production shall begin anew. Let us all rejoice!
- Pavelec: One more day, buddy. You're doing great. Finish strong like Donkey Kong.
- BAK in the USSR: It's ok Burmi, Antro's back. You and Kaner can do your thing again.
#9 Evander Kane -- #80 Nik Antropov -- #8 Alexander Burmistrov
#16 Andrew Ladd -- #18 Bryan Little -- #26 Blake Wheeler
#15 Tanner Glass -- #19 Jim Slater -- #13 Kyle Wellwood
#23 Kenndal McArdle -- #14 Tim Stapleton-- #22 Chris Thorburn
#29 Johnny Oduya -- #39 Dustin Byfuglien
#5 Mark Stuart -- #4 Zach Bogosian
#53 Brett Festerling -- #36 Mark Flood
#31 Ondrej Pavelec
I did my guess work at the fourth line, but the powers at be didn't like the line combinations that they saw (I didn't either to be honest) and above is the all new combinations expected to hit the ice tonight. It was real GST.
#26 Thomas Vanek -- #72 Luke Adam -- #29 Jason Pominville
#23 Ville Leino -- #9 Derek Roy -- #21 Drew Stafford
#42 Nathan Gerbe -- #28 Paul Gaustad -- #22 Brad Boyes
#8 Cody McCormick -- #37 Matt Ellis -- #78 Corey Tropp
#44 Andrej Sekera -- #57 Tyler Myers
#3 Jordan Leopold -- #24 Robyn Regehr
#17 Marc-Andre Gragnani -- #10 Christian Ehrhoff
#30 Ryan Miller
This is, by no stretch of the imagination, going to be an easy one. And maybe that's a good thing. The boys will have to dig deep into their all but depleted tanks and give it their all against a team that looks to be a contender in the East.
Philaster from over at Die by The Blade was kind enough to remind me that the Sabres will be honoring former Buffalo and Jets 1.0 alumnus Dale "Ducky" Hawerchuk before the game, as well as, in my personal opinion, the best play by play man in the game, Rick Jeanneret by inducting the two into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame. Classy move by Buffalo doing this on the night Winnipeg is in town, instead of waiting for the team that actually retired his number, in spite of him never playing in that city, to play.
New Player Nickname: Blake "Big" Wheeler
Player to boo without mercy: Tyler Myers, because he's as tall as I am and I don't like that.
Prediction: Buffalo 4-2 Winnipeg. Call me pessimistic but I think game 7 of 7 on the road will be a tough one to win. But it's the Jets. They thrive on the unexpected.