This is a must win game!
Yes there may be 27 games remaining for the Winnipeg Jets, and 29 for the Washington Capitals, but both teams should look at this game as 2 points they need to have. Both teams have their reasons on why passing up an opportunity to seize control of their playoff fate would be a bad thing, even if it IS only early February.
For the Jets to stay in the playoff picture, by gunning for the 8th and final spot in the Eastern Conference as well as that top spot in the Southeast Division that comes with a nice #3 (or higher) seed in the Conference, this is a must win road game against the division leaders.
For the Capitals, the image is a little rosier. However, this is a team that needs to be aware that there are teams in hot pursuit of their division title, with the Florida Panthers only 1 point back and with a game in hand. The Jets are also close behind, only 4 points back but having played 2 games more than the Caps.
It's time to nut up or shut up!
Winnipeg knows what needs to be done, it's a matter of execution. Plain and simple, if they don't find ways to score goals they will not win games and they will not make the playoffs. The Jets do not typically get embarrassed on the scoreboard, as recent results will show they have not allowed more than 3 goals in a game since January 21 against Florida. However in that 6 game span they have only managed 8 goals for. And 2 of those were via Chris Thorburn! The team shot a 4.6% shooting percentage during that time.
On the flip side, in that 6 game stand, in which the team went 3-3-0 in 5 road games and 1 home game, the team only surrendered 13 goals, with a 92.7% Save percentage between Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason. So as mad as people get at Dustin Byfuglien for coughing up the puck and causing opportunities the other way, defense is not what is costing this team points.
It's up to management and the coaching staff to determine what the remedy to this problem is. Whether or not that includes buying or selling at the deadline is their call. One would think that the outlook for this franchise is "short term pain, long term gain" which would see the fostering of the defensive prospects already within the system, while bringing in offensive pieces via the draft and other transactions. If that means that this team is successful in the future, but misses out on the playoffs this year, I think our fanbase can accept that. This is not to say the team goes into Fail for Nail, or Sink for Grink mode, because not only does that go against the competitive nature of the game, but it's also a gamble. Our franchise already knows what it's like to draft someone first overall and see them splat against the wall. (Patrik Stefan, for those keeping track at home). You can find gems at any point in the draft, particularly the 1st round. Jordan Eberle went 22nd overall. He has 9 points in his last 5 games while his teammate Sam Gagner went 6th overall and he has 15 in his last 5. The point is it doesn't matter where you draft, as long as you draft well. Whether Winnipeg is 3rd, 8th or 15th in the Conference will be decided in time. Until then: winning is the main objective.
Keys to the Game, Player Numbers and Lineups coming up after THE JUMP
Keys to the Game:
- Get out the Viagra and get the PP going. I had a revelation the other night while watching the Jets fiddle around with their PP at the MTS Centre, and that was "Why Can't Buff play wing on powerplays?". At one point he found himself in front of the net with Toby and Little on the point and it seemed to work. I'd prefer to see something along the lines of Toby and Bogo manning the blue line, with Wheeler and somebody capable of winning a faceoff and scoring as the other forward. I'd say Wellwood for this game, but he didn't make the road trip as he's ill with the flu. Should Steam Punk (Tim Stapleton) be good to go, he's another candidate for the job. The Jets need a net presence, while still maintaining a threat of shots from the blue line. Having Bogo and Buff out simultaneously can do that. The second unit can consist of Antro in front with Hainsey and Oduya on point.
- Keep up the solid goaltending. The save percentages for Mason and Pavelec are respectable, even if their win column numbers aren't. If the Jets are to stay in contention, the back end needs to remain solid.
- Evander Kane. He didn't have any shots on goal last game. I don't know what the fancy Fenwick/Corsi stats say, as that's not my cup of tea, but he didn't look terribly threatening. If he is to be the offensive star of the future here in town, he needs to ignore what Gary Lawless says and focus on his game. Eat, Sleep, Breathe Hockey. I don't care if you're not scoring, so long as it looks like you're trying.
- If Chris Thorburn scores, the Jets will win. It's science!
- Drive the net, throw it to the net, get someone in front of the net. That's how goals go in. Providing screens and banging in rebounds or occasionally deflecting one in always helps. It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to work.
- For a team with a lot of offensive players, the Caps have really not lit up the scoresheet too much this year. A current reason for these misfortunes would be the absence of top point getter Nicklas Backstrom, while Mike Green is also out, leaving Ovechkin and Semin to do the heavy lifting without the help of one of the most underrated set-up men in the league.
- Speaking of underrated, the acquisition of Tomas Vokoun by Washington General Manager George McPhee (I actually didn't have to look that up, which made my day) is probably the best move of the offseason. Other than the Jets coming to Winnipeg. Vokoun has put up numbers of 22-13-1, with a .920 SV% and a 2.47 GAA while making 1.5 million dollars this year, almost 5 million less than what he made last year with Florida.
- Keep it up. The win against Toronto on Tuesday may not have been a dominating performance, but it's a start. The Caps will be coming off a 4-0 win over those wankers from Sunrise so they know what it takes to win too.
Jets (GP 55 25-24-6 56 PTS)
#16 Andrew Ladd -- #18 Bryan Little -- #26 Blake Wheeler
#9 Evander Kane -- #80 Nik Antropov -- #17 Eric Fehr
#8 Alexander Burmistrov -- #21 Aaron Gagnon -- #20 Antti Miettinen
#15 Tanner Glass -- #19 Jim Slater -- #22 Chris Thorburn
#39 Tobias Enstrom -- #33 Dustin Byfuglien
#6 Ron Hainsey -- #4 Zach Bogosian
#5 Mark Stuart -- #29 Johnny Oduya
#31 Ondrej Pavelec
Tim Stapleton is an option to play, and if he goes I'd prefer to see Miettinen come out. Sure he gets opportunities, but mon dieu he does not make the most of them. I have bias towards Gagnon, but I feel he has done just fine since his call up.
Capitals (GP 53 28-21-4 60 PTS)
#8 Alex Ovechkin -- #90 Marcus Johansson -- #20 Troy Brouwer
#25 Jason Chimera -- #85 Mathieu Perreault -- #28 Alexander Semin
#26 Matt Hendricks -- #15 Jeff Halpern -- #42 Joel Ward
#23 Keith Aucoin -- #21 Brooks Laich -- #83 Jay Beagle
#74 John Carlson -- #27 Karl Alzner
#81 Dmitri Orlov -- #44 Roman Hamrlik
#55 Jeff Schultz -- #6 Dennis Wideman
#29 Tomas Vokoun
UPDATE: Jay Beagle slots in for Mike Knuble, who is a healthy scratch
Player to boo mercilessly: Semin. He's just so easy to hate.
Prediction: Winnipeg 3-2 Washington. I'm going off the reservation and saying we score 3 goals. If this were a home game, somebody would get free tires. But alas we'll just have to settle for a road win.