The third of five meeting of the year between the Avalanche and the Jets takes place Sunday night after each of these teams took part in high scoring games. Winnipeg is coming off a 6-4 victory over the Wild to tip off the second half of their season after the Christmas Break. On the other side, Colorado opened up their second half by getting creamed by the Blackhawks by a score of 7-2.
Despite that score, Colorado should still be the favourite in this tilt. They won the first game of the year 3-2 at home on October 27, and outlasted the Jets in a 4-3 shootout win at MTS Centre on December 12. Colorado sits third in the Central Division with 49 points, 10 more than the 6th place Jets who have also played 3 additional games. The Avs have a record of 9-5-1 against teams in the Central, while the Jets have struggled with a 4-11-3 record against divisional rivals.
Keys to the Game
1) Goaltending - In his last 11 starts, Ondrej Pavelec has a record of 2-7-1 and a no decision in Friday night's 6-4 win against Minnesota in which he was pulled after allowing 3 goals on 6 shots just 7:04 into the game. Pavelec's cold trend has seen him allow 36 goals in those 11 appearances, mustering a save percentage of only .872. Meanwhile, Al Montoya is 5-1-1 in his last 8 appearances, and his numbers of .923 save percentage and 2.14 GAA are much better than Pavelec's, making it interesting to see who mans the pipes tonight in the Mile High City.
2) LLW - Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler are not the best top line in the NHL, but they continue to quietly contribute to the scoresheet. Wheeler has 7 goals in his last 8 games. His two goals on Friday night pulled him into a tie for the team lead in goals, as both he and Little have 14. Little's 33 points is good enough for the team lead, while Wheeler trails close behind with 29 and Captain Ladd has 27 of his own. It doesn't need to be explosive from this trio, it just needs to be consistent.
3) Defensive Health - The Jets rarely get to see the "Big 3" healthy at the same time. Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian have rarely all been healthy since the team came up from Atlanta. Luckily Jacob Trouba has turned into one of the best players on the team at the age of 19. It makes it easier to not notice when Bogosian (and Mark Stuart) miss games. Bogosian was feeling the effects of the flu, while Mark Stuart nurses a lower body injury. Both players practised on Saturday, and could be back in the lineup on Sunday. That should be welcome news to the Jets, who iced Adam Pardy, Keaton Ellerby and had Julian Melchiori play his first NHL game on Friday. Grant Clitsome remains out with a lower body injury.
1) The Flying Duch-Man - Matt Duchene is considered by "hockey experts" to be on the bubble to make Team Canada's roster for the Sochi Olympics. With Hockey Canada set to release their roster on January 7, Duchene is in tough to convince officials he deserves a shot to represent his country. Strong play in the next 10 days could sway opinion in his favour, and with 7 points in his last 5 games he may be heating up at all the right times.
2) Special Teams - The Avs need to be better when people are in the penalty box. A 19th ranked power play and 23rd ranked penalty kill mean that they are blowing chances to score goals, while failing to defend well when down a man. While these numbers do not bode well for the team, the 125 minor penalties the Avs have taken this year is the second least in the NHL.
3) Home Sweet Home - Colorado will host their next 7 games, a major opportunity to seize control of their post-season destiny. The team closes the season with a 4 game road trip, so it would be wise for them to go after the 14 points available at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche are 12-5-1 at home so far this season.
Winnipeg Jets 4
Colorado Avalanche 3 (S/O)