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Winnipeg Jets Look to Rattle Sabres

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Jets look to right ship versus Sabres

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets come into tonight's game having lost three of their last four games, although they are officially 1-1-2 over that span. Nonetheless, San Jose has passed Winnipeg in the standings. Minnesota remains three points back with three games in hand, and the Jets rank 10th in the West in ROW. This could certainly play a role at season's end. The Jets need to get back on track with a win.

Key Thoughts

Winnipeg Jets

(1) The Jets may be within scratching distance of the playoffs, but a quick peek at the stats shows that they'll need to do better if they want to lock down a spot. Here are a few interesting stats through 31 GP:

  • 5-5 Goal Differential - T-17th, with a differential of exactly 1
  • Powerplay - 22nd - 15.4%
  • PK - 8th - 84.3%  |  Leading the NHL in times shorthanded - 121 times, ~4 times per game
  • PDO - 21st, 99.27  |  Shooting % 7.51; Save % 91.8
  • Shot differential - 9th - +2.7 (30.5 vs. 27.8)

The Winnipeg Jets are roughly average at even-strength, below average on the PP, and about equally above average on the PK. However, their pk prowess doesn't mean that they haven't let in many goals while short-handed. The Jets lead the league in times shorthanded, they have given up 18 goals - this ranks 21st in the league. The most promising number is the shot differential - if the Jets keep outshooting their opponents over the course of the year, that would help them climb the hill a bit, and the PDO is a little below 100, so one could imagine they'll get a bit more puck-luck as the year goes on, at least on the shooting percentage end.

Many stats point to the Jets being are mediocre relative to the league as a whole, and with the West being a stronger conference, they'll probably need to be slightly above average to make the playoffs.

(2) After a decent initial performance by Michael Hutchinson was ruined on the short-handed gaff, most assume that Ondrej Pavelec will get back in the net. He was good last time he faced Buffalo, allowing 1 goal on 20 shots in their 2-1 road win. However, since that game, he's given up 9 goals on 75 shots, winning 1, and losing 2 in OT/SO. Overall, Pavelec's numbers on the year are still quite decent - 2.32 GAA, .914 save % - but the Jets need him to get back to his early-season form and string a few wins together. This would help position themselves in the Western Conference playoff race, which is particularly important because...

(3) ...after tonight's game, 5 of the next 6 games are against strong opponents - the Bruins, Blackhawks, Islanders, and two games against the Wild. The only "easy" matchup is against Philly. In other words, if they don't win tonight, one could conceivably envision a 2-4-1 type of stretch, which would seriously harm their playoff chances. It's absolutely crucial that they get a win tonight - hopefully the following stat will predict the outcome of this game:

The Jets are:

  • 12-0-3 against teams below them in the standings
  • 3-10-3 against teams who sit above them

Buffalo Sabres

(1) Needless to say, the Sabres' season-long stats are still atrocious - they're giving up 13 more shots than they're taking, they're 3rd last in 5-5 goal differential, and their PDO is about the same as Winnipeg's, so one couldn't say that they've t been particularly unlucky. However, maybe you can throw out some of those stats, because Buffalo is one of the hottest teams in the league in the past month or so, going 10-3. Which team are they? The team which started the year 3-13-2, and looked historically bad? Or the one from the past 13 games?

(2) Looking down the Sabres roster, you can quickly see that there isn't much established talent on the roster. When the best veterans on your team include the likes of Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges, Drew Stafford, and Brian Gionta, your team can't be very good. However, younger players like Tyler Ennis, and goaltender Jonas Enroth are leading the way for this team, and they're getting meaningful contributions from very young players. Twenty year-old Latvian Zemgus Girgensons, twenty year old Fin Rasmus Ristolainen, and  nineteen year-old Russian Nikita Zadorov are all contributing big minutes. There's no doubt that many of these players have very bright futures, but it's surprising to see them playing as well as they are given the lack of mature talent surrounding them. It'll be particularly interesting to see how the Sabres' young D handle a big, fast Jets group which often creates match-up problems for opposing teams when the big guns are firing.

(3) After an atrocious start to the season at 1-8-1, Jhonas Enroth - the smallest goalie in the league at just 5'10 - has since gone 9-2-0. It's hard to imagine a starker contrast, but many people who follow the Sabres suggest that Enroth's play has indeed been the single-biggest driver of the Sabres' success of late. Aggregating Enroth's bizarre season stats, he still has a save percentage of .916 on the year, a league-average mark, on what you'd have to imagine are far-below league average conditions for a goaltender. All that said, the Jets have a great chance at winning if they can get a few by Enroth early - the Sabres are 2-14-1 when they don't score the first goal.

Player to boo Mercilessly

Tyler Ennis - a poor man's Pat Kane - is the guy that makes the Sabres offence go. Boo him if you must, but he's a fun player to watch.


Prediction

I'm betting that the Jets were at home resting as the Sabres  played in Ottawa. Jets for the win, 4-2.