With a renewed vigor the Winnipeg Jets have propelled themselves back into the playoff picture. Coming into Washington tonight the Jets sit a mere 2 points back of the Vancouver Canucks for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. This is thanks to the 9-2 run the Jets have been on since replacing Claude Noel with Paul Maurice at the head coaching position.
Among others, improved production from the goaltending position has to be highlighted. Pavelec boasts a 7-2 record with a .918 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average since the change. Backup Al Montoya is 2-0 with an even more impressive .970 save percentage and 1.00 goals against average. Whether this is a permanent change due to improved defense or a hot streak has yet to be determined but the improvement is great to see. The "Calder Twins", Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, continue to thrive with 9 points each since the move. Veterans Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Michael Frolik, and Tobias Enstrom are picking up their games as well with 13, 10, 6 and 5 points respectively.
Serious questions remain on whether this recent success is sustainable. Dustin Byfuglien has just 1 point in his past 5 and just 3 in his past 10 from his forward position. Olli Jokinen has gone 9 straight games without a point. The fourth line, comprising a rotation of Eric Tangradi, James Wright, Eric O`Dell and Anthony Peluso, have regularly not seen any time in the 3rd period due to poor performance. The third pairing of Keaton Ellerby and Adam Pardy are getting dominated game in, game out. Can the top-6 forwards and top-4 defensemen carry the team indefinitely?
Tonight the Jets face the best goal scorer in the NHL this season in Alexander Ovechkin. He has 39 goals so far this season, nice more than his nearest competitor. He is also a team-worst -19 for the Capitals. His poor defensive coverage aside, he is the most dynamic scorer in the game and needs to be watched constantly. Nicklas Backstrom and Martin Erat complement Ovechkin on the top line with playmaking ability. The Capitals do not have great depth though with only career depth player Joel Ward above 12 goals this season. The blue line is led by Mike Green who with 30 points has, his highest total since 2010 already; should Green not be able to suit up tonight (he's dealing with an "upper body injury"), smooth-skating John Carlson should take his spot on the top power play unit. It's a very good skating blueline that can move the puck up quickly. In net, Washington will go with Michal Neuvirth. Washington's top netminder so far this season (by save percentage), Phillip Grubauer, is back in the AHL.
Jets Keys to the Game
1) Ovechkin - He can take over the game if you let him. Take away his time and space at every opportunity.
2) Avoid Penalties - The Jets' PK may be 8th in the league at 83.3% but the Caps PP is 4th at 22.5%. It's even more deadly at 3rd and 24.5% at home.
3) Keep Rolling - Use the momentum they have built over the past few games and roll in hot to Washington. Washington is slumping just 3-6-1 in their last 10.
Capitals Keys to the Game
1) Shots - Shots, shots, and more shots. Then drive the net. Ondrej Pavelec gives up softies and gives up rebounds, so get after him early and often.
2) Expose the Jets' Depth - Take advantage of the weakness on the 4th line and 3rd pairing. Use home ice advantage to get favourable matchups and expose the weakness.
3) Quick tTransition - Slower defensemen like Adam Pardy and Mark Stuart have real trouble dealing with quick transition game. Caps will need to capitalize on that.
Player to Boo Mercilessly
TJ Maughan - Playa Playa Playa