Coming off of one of their strongest games in recent memory, the Winnipeg Jets will take on the Los Angeles Kings at home in Winnipeg. With 74 points in 63 games, the Jets currently sit fifth in the West and have the Western Conference's top wild card position. Meanwhile, the Kings have amassed 70 points in 61 games. It goes without saying, then, that today's game has playoff seeding implications.
The Winnipeg Jets will get a boost in their quest to lock up a playoff spot, as top winger Blake Wheeler is expected to make his return after being activated from injured reserve. In a related move, the Jets reassigned Carl Klingberg to the AHL to make room on the active roster for Wheeler.
It'll be interesting to see where Wheeler slots in though, as Coach Paul Maurice told the Jets' official website that he "really liked how [the top two lines] looked" in the Jets' recent 2-1 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. Wheeler skated on the wing with center Adam Lowry and left wing Chris Thorburn to avoid disrupting the team's top two lines at the Jets' most recent practice, so cue the speculation.
In goal, the Kings are expected to go with Jonathan Quick. The Jets are expected to counter with Michael Hutchinson.
Keys to the Game
Play penalty free. The Jets lead the league by a huuuuge margin when it comes to playing shorthanded, having played down a man a whopping 256 times this season. That's about 20% more than second-place Pittsburgh, and 37% more than the Kings. The Jets are a strong 5-on-5 team, but it won't matter if they're not actually playing 5-on-5.
Roll three lines. After becoming a two-line team in recent weeks, the recent addition of Jiri Tlusty and return of Blake Wheeler should help the Jets actually rely on their third line to play some productive minutes. That flexibility ought to let coach Paul Maurice give his top players a few more breathers throughout the game, optimize player deployments, and play matchups if and when he wants to. The Jets still aren't a four-line team, but at least things are trending in the right direction and the coaching staff will have a lot more flexibility than they've had recently.
Los Angeles Kings
Be special. Much like the Jets, the Kings are a strong 5-on-5 hockey team. But they're also the owners of one of the worst road power plays (13.6%) and penalty kills (76.2%) in the entire NHL this season. If the Kingscan get more out of their special teams though, they will make it awfully tough for the Jets to win.
Score. It's one of the games most basic principles, I know. And the Kings haven't been offensive juggernauts for quite some time, so this isn't exactly new territory. But with just three goals in the past week combined, their recent stretch of low scoring has been bad even for them, and it's hard to win hockey games without scoring at least a couple of goals. The Kings will need to find ways to beat Hutchinson - create traffic, drive the net, shoot early and often - or they're doomed.