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Game #50 Preview: Dallas Stars at Winnipeg Jets

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Bolstered by the return of Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault, your Winnipeg Jets kick off February against Antti Niemi's Dallas Stars. Will these Central Division rivals further bury Winnipeg's playoff chances?

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The Saga of John Scott is presumably over, players have returned from their regular season respite and February is upon us. How the next four weeks play out, both on and especially off the ice, will help to write years of this organization's future.

On that note, your Winnipeg Jets (22-24-3) reach their golden game of 2015-16, playing host to the Dallas Stars (31-14-5). Tonight's tilt takes place at 7:00 PM Central Time, and can be found on FS-SW, TSN3, NHL.TV and TSN1290.

Keys to the Game: Winnipeg Jets

The worn and battle-scarred: Good news everyone! Those wounded warriors Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault are back in action tonight:

The resultant reshuffling looks more like an NHL roster in 2015-16:

Top-line Nik(olaj) Ehlers has me excited. 4th line Joel Armia does not, but I appreciate how there is now some semblance of NHL-caliber depth to the line combinations. For a stumbling offence, Lowry and especially Perreault will have to hit the ground running. Alternatively, if Ehlers could score a hat-trick every game, that would be great.

Offence from the Defence: January 26th saw Twitter explode with cries of "Re-sign Dustin Byfuglien!", owing to his two fun and glorious goals on the night. The first was an excellent (if somewhat lucky) read from centre ice, the second a shorthanded beauty:

The case for re-signing Buff is only strengthened by Winnipeg's offensive paucity from the remaining d-corps. Tyler Myers has one point in eight games, Jacob Trouba one in 13, and Toby Enstrom one in his last 21. Together with Buff, this is your top-four.

Prior to beating Arizona 5-2, the Winnipeg Jets had just one goal in each of their preceding four games. Injuries up front undoubtedly hindered offensive production, but the defence hasn't proven to be part of the answer. With forward bodies returning and the All-Star Break providing a reset button, more is justifiably expected from Winnipeg's blueline.

Buycking the trend: With a record of 5-5-1 and games such as the Jan. 14th near collapse against Nashville, Connor Hellebuyck's January did feel like a minor letdown. When examined in its entirety however, feeling doesn't quite line up with fact. As per NHL.com:

Hellebuyck January

There are more sub-.900 SV% performances than we've quickly become accustomed to, but looking at totals paints a far more flattering picture. At 320 Shots Against and 297 Saves, Hellebuyck delivered a January SV% of .928. Blowout games are also conspicuous in their absence; the most he allowed in January were those four goals to Nashville, in what was ultimately a win.

Especially if Winnipeg's pre-Arizona offensive woes continue, the Jets need Hellebuyck to be super-human on a regular basis. The situation is one where even a .928 SV% can feel disappointing.

Keys to the Game: Dallas Stars

Stumbling contenders: Winnipeg wasn't the only team to enter the All-Star Break on a winning note. In the month of January, Dallas compiled a record of just 3-6-2, with two of those wins coming in their last three games. The positive spin on this is a late-month return to form; a pessimist may point out how the ASB interrupted any momentum. It will be important for Dallas to come out of the February gate flying, if only for their own self-confidence.

Shutdown...someone: Jamie Benn is on pace for 95 points. Despite zero points in his last four games, Tyler Seguin is still on track for 87, while Jason Spezza will likely break 60 points for the third straight season and Patrick Sharp has already hit 40 in 50. Not all of the forwards mentioned ended January in blazing hot fashion, but they don't all have to. Dallas has enough top-end offensive weapons (John Klingberg, anybody?) to make any opponent's night a miserable one. The Stars may put most of their eggs in one basket at times, but they've managed just fine regardless.

If you don't have goaltending: Dallas' netminders are Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. It may therefore come as a surprise to no one that there are some question marks in goal.

In four January starts, Lehtonen posted three sub-.900 SV% performances. On the other hand, Niemi's record is about as consistent as Ramona Flowers' hair colourAs per NHL.com:

Up and Down Niemi

That's the game log of a Stanley Cup contender, right there (for those who are curious, the January totals are 187 Shots Against, 166 Saves and an .888 SV%).

Lehtonen's and Niemi's records are 13-5-0 and 18-9-5 respectively, but their win totals are helped by a Dallas offence second only to the Washington Capitals in Goals For per Game. In terms of Save Percentage on the season, Lehtonen is currently rocking .908, Niemi .912. By comparison, Corey Crawford has a .931 SV% playing for Dallas' chief Central Division rival.

The Dallas Stars are not spending a combined 10.4 million(!!) for goaltending to be an issue, but here we are.

Player to Boo Mercilessly

Jyrki Jokipakka. Why, you ask? Come on, you know you want to chant "Jokipakka" in the stands. Imagine the close-up on his confused face as he wonders what on earth he did. Alternatively, one might chant "mediocre" or "where's your glove hand?" every time Antti Niemi does anything.

Prediction

Remember how I mentioned there was a distinct lack of blowout games to Connor Hellebuyck's name? That changes tonight. The Jets come out of the All-Star Break with all the energy and vigor of a Ben Carson presidential campaign, and Winnipeg loses 6-1. Hellebuyck is in net for 5 Goals Against, and something called a Mattias Janmark scores twice for Dallas.

Again, Jets lose 6-1.