Your Winnipeg Jets (8-4-1) conclude their Eastern Conference road trip tonight, against a middle-of-the-pack Ottawa Senators (6-4-2) squad. The Jets went 1-1-0 against Ottawa last season, with a 2-1 shootout win and 3-1 loss. Of some interest, Winnipeg did not have a formal morning skate today, instead "opting for a meeting to go over video to prepare for tonight’s game. Maurice also analyzed last night’s 4-2 win in Toronto."
Tonight's game will be at 6:30 PM Central Time, and can be found on TSN3, TSN5, RDS2 and TSN 1290.
Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets
Score early, score often, roll four lines: This is par for the course almost any time you're playing a second game in as many nights, and perhaps doubly so in this instance. With two back-to-backs, this has not been the easiest road trip schedule-wise. Bodies are probably tired, and minds likely wandering to the return home. It will be important for Winnipeg to get everyone into the game early.
The tricky part will be building enough of a lead whereby the fourth line can then see meaningful minutes, because goodness knows I won't feel comfortable rolling all four lines until there's at least a three goal cushion. Also, this is not a game for special teams which would serve to heavily tax certain players and leave others cold. Rolling four lines in a largely 5-on-5 affair would be ideal.
Hutch is clutch?: Hutchinson is still in possession of a 4-1-0 record and a .925%, but he's had a somewhat up-and-down last three games. We may recall the four goal excitement which was Winnipeg's win over Minnesota, or the depressing outing against Montreal. Hutch's save percentages over the past four games? .976%, .867%, .978% and .556%. While his overall numbers are lower, up until this point I might even argue that Pavelec has looked the sharper, steadier option. The team bounced back yesterday against Toronto. Hutch's opportunity to do the same comes tonight.
Watch that small, shifty one: Bryan Little won't be the only player tonight with two shorthanded goals on the season. Wee little third line centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau has two shorties himself, one of which came in Tuesday's 2-1 OT win over the Montreal Canadiens. At 75.0% and 27th in the league, Ottawa's penalty kill isn't exactly a special teams juggernaut, but it's good to be wary nonetheless.
Keys to the Game: Ottawa Senators
Linematch the hell out of Erik Karlsson: It's not unfair to characterize Ottawa's d-corps, and perhaps even the entire Ottawa Senators squad, as Erik Karlsson and everybody else. Over 12 games, Karlsson's ATOI is 26:34. 2nd on the team? Marc Methot, with 20:18.
Long story short, Winnipeg is going to see a lot of Erik Karlsson tonight. If I'm Ottawa, I'm looking to take advantage of the Jets bottom-six forwards and bottom-four defencemen, with special attention being paid to Thorburn-Petan-Peluso and Stuart-Trouba. Last night, we saw how an ill-timed Mark Stuart hit allowed Leo Komarov and Roman Polak of all people to combine on a goal. I can't wait for when Erik Karlsson is given the same opportunity.
Mr. Anderson: Unless you're a completely reliable, top-tier talent such as
Tuukka Rask Carey Price, I think goaltending is always a key to the game worth mentioning. The Ottawa Senators and tonight's starter in Craig Anderson are no exception. In his last five decisions, Anderson's save percentages read as follows: .880%, .880%, .895%, .821%, .973%. While the win-loss record for those five games is 2-2-1, it's still not exactly a stellar stat line. Throughout an up-and-down career, he's shown the ability to be an absolute wall when on top of his game. Especially considering their fancy stat woes, the Ottawa Senators need that Craig Anderson.
Mark Stone isn't walking through that door: After a questionable hit on Detroit's Landon Ferraro, NHL rising star Mark Stone will serve the second of his two game suspension tonight. As a result, the top-line duo of Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris will feature Curtis Lazar on right wing. Lazar is now in his NHL sophomore season; how well he's fared over his 82 NHL games and counting is a matter of some debate. Between Lazar, Hoffman, Pageau, Prince, Puempel and Zibanejad, that's a lot of young players and fresh faces in the lineup. They'll need to step up and prove that they belong in the show.
Player to Boo Mercilessly
Daniel Alfredsson, for that final season he spent with the Detroit Red Wings. #NeverForget
This one's excruciatingly tough, in part because Ottawa is a mediocre team featuring some game breaking talent and an abundance of young guns. The Senators' 5-on-5 play will make Toronto look like Los Angeles, but Winnipeg will find themselves facing good Craig Anderson tonight. This one goes all the way to a shootout, where the Jets' loss will result in a 2-1-1 record on this road trip. Also, Mark Borowiecki will be a physical menace all night.
Jets lose 2-1 in a shootout. Don't worry folks: the fact that I correctly predicted yesterday's score means that I will likely be wildly off tonight.