I don't want to come across as panicked or concerned, but this is the most important game the Jets will have played all year. If the Jets win (preferably without extra time) then there will be opportunity for other games to take the place of "most important". If the Jets win tonight they keep in the race for the Southeast Division title (which, if you ask my honest opinion, is a bridge too far).
They also keep right on in there with Washington for the 8th spot. And I would love to pee in the cornflakes of the Capitals and snag that last playoff spot from their clutches. Because that's what division rivals do. They relieve themselves in each others breakfast cereal. I saw a show about it on ESPN 8.
Now some of you may say "Hey, what about the Maple Leafs?" and I will say "45 years and counting". Not only am I confident they won't win the Stanley Cup this year (shocking, I know) but they won't make the playoffs either. And their coach will be fired within the next...60 days. Sorry Ron. The people have spoken. If this was Roman times you'd already be dead.
The Jets need to win tonight against their division rivals the Florida Panthers, who currently sit atop the division with a 4 point buffer over the Jets, and with 3 games in hand. The Jets have 17 games to catch them. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No. Am I going to cheer them on until they're mathematically elimated/in the playoffs? Yes. Hell I'll cheer for them even if they don't make the playoffs. I'm no part-time fan (see: people who left early on Monday)
The Panthers are without their trusty Jet killer Kris Versteeg due to injury, though Jack Skille could also be considered a Jet killer, and he's in the lineup. Also that dastardly goalie Clemmensen will most likely get the nod tonight, while I'm looking for Pavs to bounce back after a weak performance.
The Cats are coming off 3 straight wins, including their most recent effort beating up on Toronto 5-3 in front of 19, 420 angry Leaf fans on Tuesday night.
The Jets, as you may recall, recently fell victim to the young guns of Edmonton, losing to the Oilers in a 5-3 loss Monday night that was one of their sloppier efforts of the year. I can barely name 5 guys who played decently well. Randy Jones was not one of them. If it were up to be, I'd see what Clitsome brings to the table. I for one am tickled pink at the opportunity to see him.
Keys to the Game, Player Numbers and Lineups coming up after THE JUMP
Keys to the Game:
- Well...at least the powerplay works. The Jets went 2 for 3 on Monday with the extra man. I don't know if you'll believe this, but the Jets rank 8th in the league with the PP right now. Note this though: we're tied for 25th in powerplay opportunities, so obviously we don't draw a lot of penalties.
- Buff. Bustin. Dustin Byfuglien. Whatever you call him, one has to note that his offensive production over the past 10 games is amongst the best in the league.And by "amongst the best" I mean only Evgeni Malkin has more points during that stretch. Malkin has 18 to Buff's 17. The powerplay came alive around the same time he started scoring, and he's notched 8 PPP's to prove he's at least partly responsible.
- Pavs played one of his worst games of the year on Monday. I actually thought he played better in the 9-8 win against the Flyers and the 8-5 loss against the Penguins. The third goal was SOFT with a capital SOFT. But, we all know what he's capable of, so there's no reason to jump off bandwagons or think that the jets won't attempt to lock him up long-term this offseason.
- Kaner is also producing well as of late, putting up 10 points in a streak of 7 games in which he has found the scoresheet. i have to say, while not perfect, that second has has been purdy darn good.
- "Shoot the puck". I really don't feel like ever chanting that again. I felt it was demeaning to both the fans and the players. But sometimes a player needs to be a little more selfish instead of looking for another pass. And somehow, even with the fans complaining, the Jets put up 32 shots on net against Edmonton, outshooting their opposition by 7.
- I am not even sure if the Jets can win the season series at this point, but If they outscore the Panthers by big margins in their game tonight and their contest in Sunrise on April 3rd, they might be able to pull it off. As it stands the Jets have a 1-2-1 record, while the Cats have a record of 3-0-1, giving Florida a 7-3 edge in points. So yeah...the Jets need to win big.
Jets (GP 65 30-27-8 68 PTS)
#16 Andrew Ladd -- #18 Bryan Little -- #26 Blake Wheeler
#9 Evander Kane -- #8 Alexander Burmistrov -- #13 Kyle Wellwood
#15 Tanner Glass -- #19 Jim Slater -- #22 Chris Thorburn
#20 Antti Miettinen -- #80 Nik Antropov -- #14 Tim Stapleton
#39 Tobias Enstrom -- #33 Dustin Byfuglien
#6 Ron Hainsey -- #4 Zach Bogosian
#5 Mark Stuart -- #12 Randy Jones
#31 Ondrej Pavelec
This is what I'd go with...although I like Eric Fehr more than Mittens. I have a stinking feeling (not a sinking one) that Randy Jones will be in instead of Clitsome. Why a stinking feeling? Because Jones stunk up the joint on Monday.
Panthers (GP 62 30-20-12 72 PTS)
#20 Sean Bergenheim -- #9 Stephen Weiss -- #26 Mikael Samuelsson
#14 Tomas Fleischmann -- #57 Marcel Goc -- #8 Wojtek Wolski
#18 Shawn Matthias -- #13 Mike Santorelli -- #16 Marco Sturm
#82 Tomas Kopecky -- #25 Jerred Smithson -- #12 Jack Skille
#51 Brian Campbell -- #52 Jason Garrison
#44 Erik Gudbranson -- #55 Ed Jovanovski
#43 Mike Weaver -- #4 Keaton Ellerby
#60 Jose Theodore
Marco Sturm travelled with the team and may return tonight. Tomas Kopecky could also return. I'd expect to see him slot in on the 3rd line with Matthias and Santorelli, with Skille taking Smithson's spot and Smithson getting comfortable with the MTS Centre pressbox.
Player to boo mercilessly: Jack Skille. Official member of the "No-Fly List".
Prediction: Winnipeg 4-2 Florida. Dammit I predicted this last time, it had better work this time around.