This is a big game for the Jets, but even more importantly, for the Stars - a divisional rival that was expected to not only be in the playoff picture, but amongst the contenders in the Western Conference. Instead, the Stars sit 8 points back of the 4th place Jets, and 6th in the division. The Jets know they'll need to whether a storm to get through this one.
(1) Forward depth
The Jets forward depth has taken a hit in recent weeks. First, injuries to Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian forced Dustin Byfuglien back to defence, and now Evander Kane has been suspended for two games following his hit on Ducks' d-man Clayton Stoner. How many games can you win with players like Matt Halischuk, T.J Galiardi, or Chris Thorburn in your top-9? My guess is, not very many.
(2) Mark Schfeiele
Which Mark Scheifele are we seeing right now? Production wise, it's been the one from Fall 2013 - 3 goals and 10 points on the season, playing in a third line role, and perhaps lacking a bit of confidence. And with downgraded linemates, the going doesn't get any easier for Scheifele in the next few games. That said, he has an opportunity tonight against a Dallas defence that has had trouble keeping the puck out of their net, and which won't be keying on his line. This would be the perfect time to get off the schneid.
(3) Every day I'm Hutchinson
Michael Hutchinson gets his 8th start of the year tonight, and it's music to my ears. Not only does Hutch lead the NHL in goals-against-average and save percentage, he's also unbeaten in regulation sinceOctober 12th, where he gave up 3 goals and was pulled against LA. In fact, since that game, he hasn't given up more than 2 goals in an outting. Is it too early to proclaim him saviour? Yes. Does he look great? You bet your bootstraps.
(1) Tyler Seguin
With 21 goals and 35 points in 27 games, Seguin leads the league in goals, and is tied for first in overall scoring with Sidney Crosby. At only 22 years of age, Seguin is a gifted player who can literally do anything he wants on the ice. He has great speed and acceleration, a sniper's release, great vision, and hands of silk. Look no further than last November's game at the MTS Centre, where Seguin posted 2 goals and 2 assists in a 4-1 Stars win. Not only did he put up 4 points in just the first 25 minutes of play, but he put up offence in different ways - pp, even strength, wrist shot, slap shot, from stand-still, off the rush, etc. He is one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, and if the Jets can hold him to 1 goal or less tonight, they stand a very good chance of winning this game, because...
(2) The Stars' Defence is the Worst
Dallas has given up 95 goals this year in just 27 games - worst in the NHL. That's 3.5 goals against per game, a mark of futility which has recently been reserved for teams like Toronto and Edmonton. While Kari Lehtonen hasn't been very good in goal this year (I dropped him from my fantasy team weeks ago), a large part of the blame goes to the young defence. Beyond Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski, who each have 5+ seasons under their belts, they've assembled a back-end made up of fresh-faced NHL'ers like Jamie Oleksiak (22 - first full season), Patrick Nemeth (22 - rookie season), Jordie Benn (27, only 1 full NHL season), and John Klingberg - the brother of Jets' prospect Carl Klingberg (22 - rookie season). They recently traded hard-nosed d-man Brenden Dillon to San Jose in exchange for puck-mover Jason Demers, and the early reviews are mediocre - 3 points in 7 games, -6. Point being, playing against that blueline is sort of like Christmas come early for Jets forwards - not saying they'll put up 5, but there will definitely be some scoring chances available tonight.
(3) Secondary Scoring
The other big problem in Dallas has been secondary scoring. With Valeri Nichushkin for most of the season, the Stars moved Seguin over to the wing, and Spezza to the middle on the top-line. While the Benn-Spezza-Seguin line is formidable, the scoring depth on this team is putrid. Ales Hemsky has been a disappointment (7 points in 25 games), Erik Cole and Shawn Horcoff are well past their prime, and Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, and Ryan Garbutt have filled in admirably in a scoring role, but are much better suited to checking assignments. The bottom line here is that the Jets have one line they need to keep in check, and a few others they hope to outshoot, outchance, and outscore.
Player to boo Mercilessly
Tyler Seguin. The guy is sublime.
Sigh - Stars win it, 4-2.