This evening, your Winnipeg Jets (21-23-3) take on the New Jersey Devils (24-19-5), who likely qualify as the Eastern Conference's Cinderella Story. Heading into 2015-16, most folks and talking heads would have pegged New Jersey Devils as destined for the league's doldrums. Instead, they have surpassed all expectations and currently sit in the 2nd Wild Card spot, though their hold is precarious to say the least.
Tonight's tilt is the second of two meetings between the Jets and Devils, with the first having taken place way back on Oct. 9th. That match ended in a 3-1 Winnipeg victory, and featured both a 30-21 shots advantage and .952 SV% for Michael Hutchinson. It also helped set the tone for what was a pretty darn good season for Mark Scheifele prior to his recent injury troubles:
Catch the game tonight, 6:00 PM Central Time on MSG+ 2, SN and TSN 1290.
Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets
Infusion therapy: Did you know the Winnipeg Jets have scored just one goal in six of their last nine games, including the past three straight? This is not conducive to success in the long-run, so it's probably a good thing that reinforcements appear to be on the way:
#NHLJets HC Paul Maurice is "reasonably confident" Stafford and Burmistrov will return vs #NJDevils but needs to see how afternoon goes— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) January 23, 2016
If Stafford and Burmistrov return to the lineup, and they were both taking line rushes this morning as if they were, this should take some of the pressure off the top line. It's just unfortunate that their return apparently comes at the cost of that Armia - Perreault - Ehlers line:
#NHLJets line work this am: Ladd-Little-Wheeler, Stafford-Perreault-Ehlers, Thorburn-Burmistrov-Armia, Halischuk-Copp-Peluso— Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports) January 23, 2016
A silent blueline: It's perhaps no coincidence that Winnipeg's offensive woes have come part and parcel with a d-corps gone quiet. Tyler Myers has zero points in six games, Jacob Trouba one in eleven, and Toby Enstrom a hilariously entertaining one in 19 and two in 24. Even Big Buff only has two points in his last nine games, and those both came against Nashville on Jan. 14th.
This goes hand-in-hand with the depleted forward corps, and should improve as players come back from injury. Even still, more needs to be expected from what should be a solid top-four.
Just win, baby: On their other six-game homestand back in October, the Jets went 3-2-1. They are currently 0-2-0 on this one, with both losses coming against Central Division opponents. With the trade deadline fast approaching, the current set of six games could provide the final blow to Winnipeg's realistic playoff chances. If they can't beat New Jersey and Arizona after them, it may be time to throw in the towel (if it isn't already).
Brandon Pirri and a conditional 3rd for Andrew Ladd, am I right?
Keys to the Game: New Jersey Devils
Deuce Bigalow: Jersey Gigolo: Cory Schneider is an absolute rock, and undoubtedly the biggest reason as to why New Jersey is even remotely close to the playoffs.
He's tied with Corey Crawford for both the most Games Played and Games Started, at 40. His even strength save percentage of .941 is 4th among goaltenders who have played at least 20 games. His overall save percentage of .928 is 7th.
Forget key to the game; Cory Schneider is New Jersey's key to the season. Coming into tonight, he also has a combined save percentage of .943 over his last five games. Of course, the Jets have the pleasure of facing this brick wall:
Cory Schneider will start in goal for Devils.— Rich Chere (@Ledger_NJDevils) January 23, 2016
If there's a bright spot, the Devils penalty kill is "only" ranked 10th in the league. Thank goodness Winnipeg's killer app is its power play oh wait no it's terrible.
Under Siege: And it's a darn good job that Cory Schneider is one of the best goaltenders in the world, because the only fancy stat award the 2015-16 Devils will win is participation.
At 5v5, New Jersey ranked 27th in Corsi For %. They have the least Shots For per 60 minutes of any team in the league, at just 23.6. While the Devils may have the 5th best Shots Against per 60, the aforementioned abysmal offence translates to the NHL's 4th worst Shots For %. This is a team which lives among the Ottawas, Arizonas, Colorados and Vancouvers of the world.
With that said, theirs is a game plan which has worked relatively well given the franchise cornerstone in net. New Jersey's best case scenario might be to continue their shot suppression ways, considering how this is still a team very early in the rebuilding process. Asking for much more is probably asking for too much.
The Revenants: While New Jersey might only score 2.27 Goals For Per Game, there are a few noteworthy conduits of offence on this team.
Though certainly not a first round bust, Kyle Palmieri was always a tad underwhelming during his time with the Anaheim Ducks. Having waited for a qualitative leap which never came, they eventually moved on in June of 2015, trading Palmieri to the Devils in exchange for a 2015 2nd and 2016 3rd. Enter Phase II of his career.
With 20 goals in 48 games, he's already scored six more than his previous high. His current ATOI of 17:10 is over three minutes higher than his ceiling in Anaheim, and he's on pace for 34 goals and 60 points in 82 games. Palmieri's 17.1 shooting percentage is almost certainly unsustainable, but regardless, he's seized his newfound opportunity in Newark.
And then there's Lee Stempniak. You may remember him from
"the first NHL playoff goal scored on Winnipeg ice in 19 years" wanting to remain a Jet his secondary assist on this Jiri Tlusty goal against Winnipeg in October:
At 18:46, Stempniak has the 4th highest ATOI among Devils skaters, and includes a healthy 01:52 on the penalty kill. He has 12 goals and 22 assists in 48 games, putting him on pace for 59 points total, and comes into tonight with five points in his last five tilts.
The Jets will have to keep a careful eye on New Jersey's top-six right wingers. I'm sure all of our left-side defencemen are up to the task.
Stempniak is third in scoring on a team that holds a wild-card spot (and is two points off the team lead).— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) January 23, 2016
Player to Boo Mercilessly
Boo Lee Stempniak for not having the power to offer himself a contract. Boo Cory Schneider for being one of the best in the world. Boo Bobby Farnham for being Bobby Farnham:
Winnipeg's maddening inconsistency continues, only this time with a notch in the win column. The Jets manage four goals, mostly on the back of two power play markers (I'm clearly insane this afternoon). This comes despite relatively even fancy stats throughout the game. Lee Stempniak will score, because of course Lee Stempniak will score.
Jets win 4-1.