Coming off of wins in three straight games and five of their last six, giving fans hope that perhaps they'd turned a corner, the Winnipeg Jets put up quite a stinker against the conference-worst Washington Capitals last Saturday. Now back on the road, the Jets will look to get back to their winning ways as they take on the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida tonight. A win tonight could put the Jets into a playoff position just before the halfway mark of the season.
The Winnipeg Jets are 6-4-1 on the road this season, taking 59% of the road points available to them so far. That's generally a playoff pace, and if the Jets can keep that pace up the rest of the way, some improved play and luck at home will likely see the Jets in the postseason. The Panthers, meanwhile, own an Eastern Conference-worst 6-10-5 record and league-worst (by quite a margin) -26 goal differential. Against a division rival missing two of their top scorers (Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss, out with a chest injury and wrist surgery, respectively), this is a game that the Winnipeg Jets should win.
Update: Dustin Byfuglien will be a game-time decision due to a potential hold-up in travel. Should he not be able to make it in time, Derek Meech will take his place for his first NHL game since October 2011.
Keys to the Game:
- Win the match ups: While the Panthers' top six can be threatening at times, their bottom six isn't particularly dangerous. If Noel can get his top lines and defensemen out for the tough minutes while sheltering the greenhorns, the Jets defense could make Ondrej Pavelec's night easy.
- Score the first goal: Winnipeg has opened the scoring in seven of the last eight games, winning five of them. Scoring the opener would certainly help, as this Jets team doesn't play from behind very well.
- Limit the Panthers' PP opportunities: The last time the Jets played in Sunrise, the Panthers had a myriad of opportunities and potted three power play goals. If the Jets can play 5-on-5 hockey, they should come out ahead.
- Draw penalties: It's a bit redundant, but the Panthers' power play could be their best friend. Winnipeg's been known to take a few too many penalties in the past, and a power play goal or two would really help the Panthers' chances.
- Get secondary scoring: The Panthers' top line of Fleischman-Weiss-Kopecky (in Versteeg's absence) has really carried the offensive load lately. Now Weiss is out too. Meanwhile, the Panther's defense has contributed just 8 goals this season, with 6 of them coming off of the red-hot (.176 SH%) stick of Brian Campbell. For reference, the Jets' D has contributed 11 goals despite both Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom missing major time.
- Produce at 5-on-5: The Panthers have scored 31 goals at 5-on-5 this season, 25th in the league. Often the way these games go is the Jets either roughly equal or outchance the Panthers at 5-on-5, but blow it anyway. If the Panthers can control the play and produce at 5-on-5, the Jets will be in trouble.
Player to Boo Mercilessly:
At a road game? My, you are merciless. I say Jacob Markstrom. Because Versteeg is hurt and Markstrom might be vulnerable.
Winnipeg 3 - F