The Jets come into this game sitting (techncally) in 7th spot in the West, and battling the likes of San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary, and LA for one of the two wildcard spots. While they're currently leading the pack with 60 points - 4 ahead of San Jose, 6 ahead of LA - it's crucial that they keep building positive inertia and beat a sub-500 team who is all but eliminated from playoff contention.
(1) Last time the Jets played Philadelphia, Pavelec got burned late in the game, giving up two goals in the third, and another in OT, as Jakub Voracek stole the puck from Byfuglien behind the net and snuck it through the wickets. Based on the rotation Paul Maurice has been employing, one can assume that Michael Hutchinson will get the start. If stats mean anything, that has to be good news - Hutchinson's game log is impressive. Not only is he 14-4-2, but in 19 starts, he has held the opposition to two or fewer even-strength goals on all but two occasions. With even-strength play seen by many as a more accurate evaluation of a goaltender, I thought I'd do a very basic comparison; had either goaltender been particularly good or bad at even-strength, while short-handed, or while on the power-play?
I thought I might find an imbalance in Pav's game - that he had been particularly bad in one area, but a bit better in another. Instead, it seems that there hasn't been any situational difference between the two goaltenders (at least at first glance), Hutchinson has simply been better regardless of how many attackers or defenders are on the ice.
(2) Since their return to Winnipeg, the Jets' record against Philadelphia is fairly good - 5-3-2. However, it hasn't been great of late. The Jets actually won all of the first three meetings, but the Flyers are 2-0-1 in the past three, with their only loss coming in a shootout last year. That said, it's a small sample sizes, and the Flyers aren't world beaters, especially with their current injury situation. (Point 2 in the following section).
(3) Back in October, the Jets lost five of their first seven games - each by more than one goal. But in the past 42 games, they've lost guess how many games by more than one? Only six, and two of those games included empty-netters. Generalizing a bit, it would seem that the Jets have been in 38 of the past 42 games! This stat is very telling, particularly for a team which was consistently label of "inconsistent" in previous years. Is it Hutchinson? Maurice? It Perreault? Buff 2.0? Perhaps it's the Gladwell-popularized notion of the 'Tipping point' - that several small changes can produce big results.
(1) The dynamic duo of Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux sit first and third in NHL scoring. While Giroux has been a regular top-5 scorer in recent years (3rd in both 2012 and 2014), Voracek has taken his game to a new level - coming into this season, his highest year-end point ranking was 18th in 2013. Not only is Voracek big (6'2), and slick with the puck, but his ability to make plays at high speed is what separates him from most other players. While in previous years, many assumed that Voracek's offence stemmed from having Giroux at centre, it's becoming increasingly clear that the two complement each other incredibly well. If the Jets hope to win this game, they'll need to keep this pair in check. Less than two goals probably means a win.
(2) The injury bug has bitten Philadelphia in areas they particularly could not afford, as their starting goaltender Steve Mason has been limited to 30 games, and back-up Ray Emery has been forced to suit up 20 times. Emery's G.A.A is almost a full goal more than Mason's (2.41 vs. 3.38). Ouch. Furthermore, they've also been missing their top defenceman, Braydon Coburn, and a few other defenders, like Nick Schultz, Nick Grossman, and Kimmo Timonen (since the pre-season). The Flyers have decent depth up front, with a few young players who could move up the lineup (Couturier, Laughton), or might come up from the AHL (Akeson, Cousins), but the injuries on D&G have ended their post-season aspirations.
(3) The only thing the Flyers hate more than the Pittsburgh Penguins is the term "rebuilding". Nonetheless, it might be time for new GM Ron Hextall to think about doing just that. While they have high-end talent up front, and some youth as well, their defence is old (Streit), slow (Schenn), or both (Grossman and Schultz). Though they have several promising d-men on the way, it'll take 2-4 years before the likes of Hagg, Morin, and Sanheim are ready to play big minutes in the NHL. Look for the Jets to victimize this group tonight, particularly off the rush.
Player to boo mercilessly
Sean Couturier. If this were a home game, I'd hope for a creative chant, i.e "Scheif-lee's be-der"
Jets scrape out a 4-2 win off the collective back of Ladd-Little-Wheeler.