It's amazing what a successful road-trip can do for a team.
When the Winnipeg Jets left town for their five-game road trip a 10 days ago, they were coming off of an 0-for-3 homestand that had many people around town wondering the if the Jets were done. But a successful 4-1 trip, with all four wins being "clean" victories, has vaulted the Jets back into not only playoff contention, but into a tie for first in the Southeast Division.
They return home for two big games this week, beginning with the New Jersey Devils this evening at the MTS Centre, and they will hope to bring some of their new-found confidence back with them. The Jets, who were so successful as the home team last year (23-13-5), have struggled in front of their fans this season, as their 3-5-0 record would attest to, and that record will have to get better if the MTS Centre is to host any playoff hockey this spring.
The Devils arrive on a two-game losing streak, with their last loss coming at the hands of these same Jets this past Sunday, and feature a 4-3-2 road record. They will also be without Martin Brodeur this evening, as he was placed on the IR and did not make the trip due to a bad back. Keith Kincaid was brought up to backup Johan Hedberg.
Patrik Elias is red hot of late, as he has 15 points (3 goals and 12 assists) in his last 11 games, and he leads the Devils with 22 points and a +11 rating. Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson are tied for second on the squad with 17 points each, but nobody else on the team has more than 8 points.
While New Jersey has slightly better special teams numbers, the fact remains that they are not quite as solid without Brodeur in the lineup, and with the Jets coming home with some confidence in their back pocket this is a very winnable game. The Jets will need to avoid a letdown and keep doing what brought them success on the road.
Keys to the Game
- Ride the Kane Train: Evander Kane has jumped to the top of the scoring race on the Jets as he now has 18 points on the season. Kane has goals in four-straight games, and has 10 points and a +7 rating during his current NHL-leading eight-game point streak.
- Win the Special Teams Battle: The Jets managed to win said special teams battle against the Devils last Sunday, as they finished 1/2 on the PP on a Grant Clitsome goal while killing off both Devils power-plays.
- Take Advantage of Hedberg: Winnipeg couldn't be getting the Devils at a better time, as Brodeur hurt his back in the warmup last Sunday and won't play again today. Johan Hedberg has struggled big-time lately, as he's allowed 14 goals in his last 3 games with a 0.837 save percentage.
New Jersey Devils
- Take the crowd out of the game early: The MTS Centre is going to be bouncing tonight, as renewed optimism in the Jets will give the fans plenty to cheer about. But an early goal against would likely silence the joint.
- Draw penalties: While the Jets penalty kill has been better of late, the last Flyers game not withstanding, the fact remains that the Jets are still deadlast in the NHL with a PK percentage of 70.0%. When every 3 out of 10 power-plays end up with a puck in the Jets net, other teams should be attempting to draw penalties like crazy.
- Score more: The Devils have had their offense dry of of late, as they've only scored 8 goals in their last 5 games (1-3-1). Kovalchuk, Clarkson and Elias and have been carrying the mail for this team, but the Devils will need some secondary scoring if they are to emerge victorious.
Player to Boo Mercilessly:
Alexei Ponikarovsky. Because he took that awful late penalty against the Maple Leafs while still a Jet. And because it will be funny.
Jets 4 - F