As much as I enjoy watching Ovechkin, I'm a little thankful this is the last time Winnipeg will see him until the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals. Our Winnipeg Jets (12-12-2) look to close out the two-game season series against a streaking Washington Capitals squad (18-5-1). No seriously, they're on absolute fire, having won six straight games going back to November 21st. Meanwhile, Winnipeg has had two of their better efforts of the season recently, between shellacking Toronto 6-1 and the 3-1 complete domination of Minnesota. Let's not talk about the Colorado game in-between.
Catch the game at 2:00 PM Central Time on everyone's favourite broadcasters, Sportsnet and TSN 1290.
Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets
Pain from the Point: In my last preview, coincidentally enough for Game #23 against these same Capitals, I mentioned Washington's need for a productive John Carlson. He then proceeded to post two assists that game, and now has five points in his last four games. Considering how Matt Niskanen is coming in hot as well, the Winnipeg Jets would be well served by paying special attention to the Capitals blueliners.
Dealing with Holtby, Pt. 2: In their last match up less than two weeks ago, the Winnipeg Jets did a fairly decent job of bodies around Braden Holtby to distract and generally cause havoc. And with a goalie like Holtby, you need moments such as this to consistently beat him:
Bryan Little does nothing but be an extra element for Holtby to worry about, and sometimes that's all it takes. The Capitals netminder is having a career year as a starter, currently holding a .927 SV%, 1.96 GAA and on pace for 55 wins. On top of that, he's racked up eight straight wins against the Jets and is coming off a game where he absolutely robbed the Montreal Canadiens of victory. Winnipeg should do everything within the rules of hockey to make his life difficult tonight.
Play Strength Against Strength: Washington's top players have been performing of late, and it's going to take more than the likes of Lowry-Copp-Peluso to handle them. Take advantage of being at home and minimize the exposure of less capable players. T.J. Oshie has three goals in the last four games, while Ovechkin has four points over that same span, but no goals in his last couple. He's overdue.
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It: For the love of God and all that is holy, start Connor Hellebuyck. He's allowed just one goal in each start so far, looking calm, cool and collected while doing it. While no one expects him to have a career SV% of .958 when he's inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he's showing us first hand why he comes so highly touted.
Long story short, I want the goalie in net who's had this moment recently:
rather than the one who pulled a poor man's Tommy Salo:
Keys to the Game: Washington Capitals
Fear Not the Rough Stuff: The Capitals come into this game with the 5th ranked Penalty Kill and a Power Play second only to the absurdly overperforming Boston Bruins. Which is to say, they can handle a special teams war just fine. Should Winnipeg bring their heavy, rough-and-tumble style to bear, Washington can deal with whatever the fallout. Not to mention, if push comes to shove, Tom Wilson can tango with just about anyone. He's a scary character.
Stay Patient: While they've been better of late, the Jets depth both in the bottom-six and throughout the d-corps is still a concern. Winnipeg may try as they might to send their best against Ovechkin & Co., but that will simply free up Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov to work their magic. Sooner or later, Lowry-Copp-Peluso are going to find themselves on the wrong end of an unfavourable matchup. The Washington Capitals can afford to play the long game.
Coaches to Boo Mercilessly
I love Barry Trotz and think he did a tremendous job over in Nashville, to say nothing of his work thus far in Washington. Having said that, a chant or two reminding him of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn may be in order.
On the other hand, if craziness happens and Connor Hellebuyck doesn't start this game, boo Paul Maurice mercilessly.
"Excellent question. If I can come up with one between now and game-time, then you'll find out who is playing." #NHLJets Paul Maurice (2/2)— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) December 4, 2015
It won't be quite the same level of domination which was the victory against Minnesota, but the Winnipeg Jets will give a very good account of themselves. The team's defensive game continues to show progress, Mark Stuart only causes two odd-man rushes, and Nik Ehlers scores the game-winning goal.
Winnipeg wins 3-1.
Thanks for reading!