So much for a season-defining road trip for the Jets. Or maybe it was.— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) November 17, 2015
Welp, that road trip was a thing that happened. But it's thankfully, mercifully over now, and tonight the Winnipeg Jets (8-9-2) begin a three game homestand against the Vancouver Canucks (7-6-6).
Luckily for the struggling Jets, Vancouver hasn't exactly been the pinnacle of excellence either, having gone 1-4-2 over their last seven games. In even better news, those seven games were all against Eastern Conference foes; at least Winnipeg had their heads beaten in by the might of the Central Division. Vancouver's stumbling gives me hope that tonight might provide reprieve from losing.
Catch the game at 6:30 PM Central Time, only on Sportsnet and TSN 1290.
Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets
I need a hero: During this horrendous stretch, defensive coverage has been quite the topic of conversation. The job of an NHL goaltender is tough already, and when you have instances such as both Jacob Trouba and especially Mark Scheifele failing to properly cover David Backes in the slot, it doesn't make things any easier.
But I don't expect Winnipeg's team defence or d-corps miscues to fix themselves overnight. They've been a problem all season, and it's not so early in the year anymore. And so to be frank, we need the goalies to steal us a game. They did it several times earlier in the season, and if they could return to their superhuman ways, that would be great.
Underpowered: Over the now-concluded four game road trip of doom, Winnipeg went 1 for 15 on the power play, with that 1 coming in the first game against Minnesota. In even better news, according to Patrick Williams of NHL.com, Winnipeg is just 1 for 27 if we expand the sample to the last eight games. A power play goal against Vancouver's less-than-imposing defence and goaltending would be nice.
Dreger: "I heard Toby Enstrom's name tossed out as potentially being a guy they would consider parting w/ in some sort of a deal." #NHLJets— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) November 17, 2015
Yep, that's the solution right there. Trade Toby, and we'll roll with Pardy, Stuart and Chiarot on the left side. What's the worst that could happen?
Keys to the Game: Vancouver Canucks
Diminishing returns: After beginning the season on a tear, Ryan Miller has fallen back down to earth and then some. In his last five games, Miller has an 0-4-1 record and the following save percentages: .870, .864, .857, .880 and .900. Yikes. And Vancouver's alternative in Jacob Markstrom has played a grand total of two games, including a 4 goals against, .889 SV% effort against Montreal on Monday.
Whoever's in net tonight for Vancouver, they'll need to tighten things up a little. Either that, or the MTS Centre crowd will be in for an entertaining evening if both teams continue their recent goaltending trends.
The kids are all right (mostly): The Canucks have a number of young players contributing this season, and for the most part they're doing just fine. 19-year-old rookie Jared McCann has 6 goals and 8 points, while old man Sven Baertschi has 7 points despite averaging just 10:49 a game. 22-year-old defenceman Ben Hutton seemingly came out of nowhere, and with the injury to Luca Sbisa, he's formed a solid third pairing alongside Matt Bartkowski. And despite only having 4 points on the season, Jake Virtanen has been a fancy stat beast, one who seems to elevate his teammates and not the other way around.
But things could be a little better in the Vancouver playpen. With Brandon Sutter injured, the Canucks centre depth reads as follows: Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat, Jared McCann and Adam Cracknell. The big question mark there is Horvat as second line pivot. While he may have 6 points and a decent 49.5 faceoff winning percentage, he has been absolutely brutal at both 5v5 and 5v5 close. And it's not exclusive to this season either, as last year's numbers can attest to.
The Vancouver Canucks need more out of Bo Horvat if he's going to be playing centre in the top-nine, much less top-six. With him playing an average of 16:15 per game and the Jets at home, Winnipeg will have ample opportunity to take advantage.
Offsetting special teams: The Canucks' power play comes into tonight's game on fire, going 4 for 12 in the last three games. But all is not well in Vancouver special teams land, as in five games the penalty kill has allowed 6 goals on 20 times shorthanded.
Remember I mentioned how Winnipeg's power play had been struggling? This might be a good PK unit to find its footing against. Conversely, if I'm Vancouver, I'm looking to right the ship against an inept Winnipeg PP of late.
Player to Boo Mercilessly
Whichever Vancouver goaltender is starting tonight. Whether it's Ryan Miller or Jacob Markstrom, yelling at them about how Luongo and/or Eddie Lack are better seems wholly appropriate (even if the latter is a lie at the moment).
Brace yourselves, because I'm about to have a ray of sunshine moment. I think that Winnipeg pulls solid play out of nowhere, Bryan Little carries the team with two goals and an assist, and the Winnipeg Jets find a helping hand in subpar Vancouver goaltending.
Winnipeg wins 5-1. Crazy, right? Oh, and Stuart-Trouba are on the ice for that goal against, because Stuart-Trouba.