After what has seemed an eternity, the Winnipeg Jets (4-2-0) get to play hockey again. They have the unenviable task of finding their sea legs against the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-2-1) tonight at 7:00 PM Central Time. As Patrick Williams of NHL.com reminded us, "The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets split two games in 2014-15, each team winning once on the road." Ben Bishop made 40 saves the last time he was in Winnipeg; let's hope for a leakier showing this time around.
Catch the game tonight on FOX Sports Sun, TSN3 and TSN1290.
Ladd - Little - Wheeler
Perreault - Scheifele - Ehlers
Burmistrov - Lowry - Stafford
Petan - Copp - Thorburn
Enstrom - Byfuglien
Chiarot - Myers
Stuart - Trouba
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Drouin - Stamkos - Callahan
Palat - Johnson - Kucherov
Killorn - Filppula - Brown
Paquette - Namestnikov - Condra
Hedman - Stralman
Carle - Garrison
Coburn - Sustr
Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets
A Bit Rusty, Are We: The Winnipeg Jets last played five days ago on Sunday, which is to say some rust is to be expected. It'll be important to get everybody into the game and up to speed early on. Fortunately, Tampa Bay's first period scoring leaves something to be desired, but I'd rather not be the team which fixes that for them. And yes, not forcing the penalty kill units to be out there half the period would also help keep everyone in the game.
Smother Steven Stamkos & Co.: Tampa Bay's first line of Drouin - Stamkos - Callahan is a menace to society and must be stopped. Through 7 games, the trio have a combined 17 points, including 5 goals from Stammer himself. Being at home gives Winnipeg the line matching advantage, and keeping our best out against their best might be a good idea. If Tampa's top-line is kept off the scoresheet, it'll be a good sign.
The Best Defence is a Good Offence: With that said, Tampa Bay's roster is full of offensive weapons in addition to the top-line. The 2nd line triplets, Valtteri Filppula, Alex Killorn and Vladislav "Say My" Namestnikov in the bottom-six, not to mention their top-pairing of Hedman-Stralman, all are perfectly capable of making the Jets pay. Winnipeg has thus far looked possession impotent against teams not named the New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames. A return to the fancy stat dominant ways of last season would come in handy this game. The more we have the puck, the less Tampa Bay does, and while smothering the Stamkos line is a top priority it alone might not be enough.
Keys to the Game: Tampa Bay Lightning
Bishop Takes King: Tampa Bay has played 7 games, and Ben Bishop has been the goalie of record for all of them. The result? A .905 SV%. Chad Johnson has a higher save percentage. Even if Tampa Bay is 4-2-1, his performance needs to be better. With Andrei Vasilevskiy out with blood clots, Bishop's hold on the starter's gig has been temporarily and artificially solidified. But with Vasilevskiy now taken off blood thinners and soon expected back at practice, the return of genuine competition is on the horizon and Ben Bishop needs to make his case now.
Tighten Up the Penalty Kill: While Tampa Bay's power play has been operating at a solid 23.8% clip, the same cannot be said of their penalty kill. At 66.7% and 29th in the league, it's been absolutely wretched. When one of your special teams is ranked only above the 2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets, there's a problem. Ben Bishop and his .781 SV% when on the penalty kill has something to do with this.
Pucking Shoot: Despite their high-octane top-six, Tampa Bay is 24th in the league with only 27.3 shots per game, a number exactly tied with their average number of shots against. It feels odd wanting a team like Tampa Bay to shoot more, but Brian Boyle probably shouldn't have the 4th highest SOG total on the team. They might also want to put more emphasis on the 1st period; of their 23 goals scored this season, only 3 have come in the 1st period, vs. 10 in the 2nd and 9 in the 3rd.
Player to Boo Mercilessly
Ben Bishop. While reports of his mental fragility have been greatly exaggerated, I'm all for trying to overwhelm his mind with a multitude of voices. And besides, Steven Stamkos related "trade your captain" chants are too easy.
This one's tricky. The spirit world is telling me that Winnipeg fails to contain the Tampa Bay top-six, falling 4-3 in OT.