Without a doubt, the Heritage Classic serves as quite the spectacle, with glitz, glamour and stars both past and present. Behind all that, there's an NHL regular season game being played, and two points on the line.
Today may only be game five, but now is the time for Winnipeg to start banking wins. While the Jets are off to a middling 2-2-0, most other teams in the division have had their stumbles as well.
Colorado has been exciting, and offseason pickups Patrick Wiercioch, Joe Colborne and Fedor Tyutin are already paying off, but the Avs still look like a team with some defensive learning to do. The Blackhawks may be beginning to find their footing, but Chicago's infusion of kids and laughably bad penalty kill will continue to be works-in-progress.
Dallas has been hit ridiculously hard by injury, with Patrick Sharp, Cody Eakin, Jiri Hudler and Mattias Janmark all currently out and Ales Hemsky just recently returned. They also have Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen as their goaltending tandem, which could easily be a question mark all season long. After stumbling out of the gate, the Predators will look to build on their 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh, one which came despite multiple encounters with the worst chicken soup of all time.
The point is, Winnipeg would do well to find their footing and go on a run before their central division rivals do the same. The central sent five teams to the playoffs last year, and could very well do so again. Two points now goes a long way to closing the nine point gap by which the Jets missed the postseason last year.
Winnipeg will look to channel some of their alumni counterpart's juju, with Teemu Selanne & Co. defeating Edmonton 6-5 in dramatic fashion yesterday. Of course, the team is coming off some dramatics of their own, specifically a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mark Scheifele's third goal of the season and Patrick Laine's first career hat trick sealed the deal on Wednesday, and the team will look to carry on that momentum today.
Laine's hat trick goal is OT winner for #NHLJets @SUBWAYCanada #SubwayCanada https://t.co/hwIZmJqXY4— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 20, 2016
To the surprise of no one, Dustin Byfuglien continues to be Winnipeg's d-corps cornerstone. While his four assists in four games are swell, it's his 29:05 ATOI which jumps out from the stat sheet. After averaging 25:12 TOI in 2015-16, Buff has already cracked the 30 minute mark twice this season. Trust seems to be an issue, considering where Ben Chiarot, Mark Stuart and Paul Postma sit on the TOI/GP chart, and for better or worse Byfuglien is the beneficiary.
If the goaltender rotation continues, today would seem to be Connor Hellebuyck's turn between the pipes. Of course, appearing in an outdoor game can serve as a hat tip for prior service. For that reason, it would be surprising to see Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart as healthy scratches this afternoon, and the same may hold true for Michael Hutchinson as well.
Check it out! Connor Hellebuyck's mask from @Eyecandyair for the #HeritageClassic is pic.twitter.com/enUN9XqkZt— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) October 19, 2016
Standing between the Winnipeg Jets and their first winning streak of the season are the 4-1-0 Edmonton Oilers. While two of those wins came against the listless Calgary Flames, Thursday featured a 3-1 victory over the central division-leading St. Louis Blues. Their games aren't exactly masterstrokes, but the Oilers nonetheless come into today's tilt with some wind in their sails.
Netminder Cam Talbot is hot, with a .939 Sv% vs Carolina on Oct. 18, plus a .971 Sv% against the aforementioned Blues. He's also faced the second most rubber of any goaltender this season, behind only Marc-Andrew Fleury, who's played a full game more. Again, the Oilers still have some work to do.
Unlike Winnipeg, the Oilers blueline is very clearly missing a go-to stud. Andrej Sekera leads the pack with 21:57 ATOI, followed by Kris Russell (21:46), Oscar Klefbom (21:10) and Adam Larsson (20:31). Edmonton's defence by committee is what it is, at least until Darnell Nurse takes a hoped for next step in his development.
With all due respect for Talbot and Larsson, the forward corps is Edmonton's real highlight. After going scoreless for two games (gasp!), Connor McDavid posted a goal and assist against St. Louis, bringing his total up to eight points in five matches. Linemates Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic have six and four points, respectively, while Leon Draisaitl has quietly put up six points of his own.
On the flip side, Edmonton needs more from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has just a single assist on the season. The 23-year-old centre is still leaned upon, playing an average of 17:36 TOI, over a minute and a half more than Draisaitl. While serving as pivot to Benoit Pouliot and Zack Kassian isn't exactly a prime offensive opportunity, the Nuge's $6,000,000 cap hit will look somewhat onerous without additional point production.
Nugent-Hopkins isn't putting up points.— NateInVegas (@NateInVegas) October 20, 2016
Oilers have him paired with Pouliot and Kassian. Career high in points 36 and 29. Remember this.
When, Where & How
Sunday, Oct. 23, 2:00 p.m. CT, Investors Group Field
TV: NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV
Radio: TSN 1290
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Nikolaj Ehlers||Mathieu Pereault||Blake Wheeler|
|Patrik Laine||Mark Scheifele||Drew Stafford|
|Kyle Connor||Alexander Burmistrov||Brandon Tanev|
|Shawn Matthias||Adam Lowry||Joel Armia|
|Josh Morrissey||Dustin Byfuglien|
|Tobias Enstrom||Tyler Myers|
|Mark Stuart||Paul Postma|
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
||Connor McDavid||Jordan Eberle|
|Patrick Maroon||Leon Draisaitl||Jesse Puljujarvi|
|Benoit Pouliot||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Zack Kassian|
|Anton Lander||Mark Letestu||Tyler Pitlick|
|Oscar Klefbom||Adam Larsson|
|Andrej Sekera||Kris Russell|
|Darnell Nurse||Eric Gryba|