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Game #51 Preview: Carolina Hurricanes at Winnipeg Jets

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Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Your Winnipeg Jets (22-25-3) wrap up their homestand of sadness against a Carolina Hurricanes (23-21-8) squad in the midst of a playoff push. At 1-4-0 and counting, Winnipeg's six game stretch at the MTS Centre has been nothing short of a disaster. Following tonight's tilt, the Jets kick off a run of eight out of ten games on the road. Yippee.

On the flip-side, Carolina is in the middle of a quick three game road-trip across Canada. They were burned by Calgary on Wednesday to the tune of 4-1, and wrap things up Sunday against Montreal. Proving they exist as the Mirror-verse Winnipeg, Carolina then goes on to play eight out of their next ten games at home.

Catch the game tonight, 7:00 PM Central Time on FS-CR, TSN3 and TSN 1290.

Three Thoughts: Winnipeg Jets

Keep playing Nik(olaj) Ehlers: 2015-16 is lost. The least Winnipeg can do is see what the kids are capable of, and that seems to be exactly what's happening with Nikolaj Ehlers.

Ehlers' average time on ice for the season sits at 14:42. Let's compare that to his last six games, as per The Hockey News:

ehlers atoi

It's perhaps no coincidence that he's riding a five game point streak.

Of the leading rookie forwards this season, Artemi Panarin averages 18:47 TOI, Jack Eichel 18:37, Connor McDavid 17:36, Dylan Larkin 16:58 and Max Domi 16:13. Ehlers' 14:42 places him 10th, behind Sam Bennett, Joseph Blandisi and something called a Jordan Martinook.

Unlike players such as Nic Petan and Andrew Copp, Nikolaj Ehlers is stuck with the big club. This pattern of ice time (and linemate) opportunity is a positive development; let's see what he can do for the season's remainder.

Cruel, cruel irony: This was in today's Jets.NHL.com preview. I'll let it speak for itself, with some help from an old friend, current frenemy of the blog:

cruel cruel irony

Trade Andrew Ladd: This isn't a key to the game, but it could well be a key to the future. At this point, the writing seems to be on the wall for Winnipeg's captain. And while Cheveldayoff might obtain a greater haul closer to the deadline, one needs to balance that with the risk of injury. News of "maintenance days" and "gameday skates off" serve as constant reminders that Ladd is but one injury away from being worth nothing to other teams.

If the market can be drummed up prior to February 29th, that may be in the best interests of all.

Three Thoughts: Carolina Hurricanes

The kids are all right: While there are a whole slew of unheralded names on the Carolina Hurricanes roster, it would be a mistake to dismiss them. Many continue to fly under the radar simply because they a) are young; and b) play for the Carolina Hurricanes.

In his NHL rookie season last year, two-way centre Victor Rask posted a respectable 33 points in 80 games. He is just three points off that mark and in 30 fewer tilts, currently sitting with 30 points in 50 GP, and on pace for 48. Elias Lindholm is already in his third NHL season, and yet despite this and being the 5th overall selection in 2013, he often seems completely unheralded. Even in a slightly underwhelming year, the 21-year-old is still on track for 38 points.

For the time being, Rask and Lindholm form a formidable trio alongside 23-year-old "veteran" Jeff Skinner, on a line with dangerous offensive capability operating within Carolina's impressive system:

Today's lineup bodes well for Carolina's future, and there are still more youngsters yet to arrive:

A defence full of vim and vigor: Carolina's youth movement extends beyond their forward corps. The defence features four players under the age of 24, five if you include the currently injured Brett Pesce. Of these, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and the aforementioned Pesce are all in their rookie seasons.

Hanifin is the most recognizable of Carolina's rookie defencemen. Though he is completely overshadowed by his 2015 NHL Entry Draft fellows Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the 19-year-old's NHL career is off to a quietly solid start. Hanifin's fancy stats show room for improvement, but he's keeping his head above water while averaging 17:43 TOI, including 02:20 TOI/GP on the Power Play.

American hero Justin Faulk acts as both leader of the youth movement and the d-corps. At 23-years-old, he provides a young example of excellence to those listed above, while also serving as a really damn good defenceman. On pace for 22 goals, 30 assists and 52 points while playing nearly 25 minutes a night, he is arguably the Hurricanes' heart and soul.

Alongside grizzled veterans John-Michael Liles and Ron Hainsey, Carolina's blueline strikes an interesting balance between young and old. Aside from welcoming our old friend Hainsey, it will be a treat to see these fresh faces in action.

Psychiatric Ward: Cam Ward. The last time he had a season total save percentage over .910, Mitt Romney was closing the deal on the Republican presidential nomination (AKA 2011-12, .915 SV%). It's now 2015-16, and he's on pace for .905.

Among goalies who have played at least 15 games, Ward's even strength save percentage of .911 ranks 42nd out of 47 qualifying netminders. His overall save percentage of .905 ranks 38th among the same goalies, rubbing shoulders alongside the Mike Condons, Ondrej Pavelecs and Michael Hutchinsons of the world. The sad thing for head coach Bill Peters is how Ward may still constitute his better option, though Eddie Lack has looked better of late.

There's a solid argument to be made that with average NHL goaltending, the Carolina Hurricanes are a playoff team. With Cam Ward a pending Unrestricted Free Agent, Daniel Altshuller on his way and Alex Nedeljkovic not far behind, the madness may soon be at an end.

Player to Boo Mercilessly

Cam Ward, for almost singlehandedly keeping Carolina out of the postseason. Eric Staal for being both captain and pending UFA. @rlyman60_mb for his terrible jokes.

Prediction

Winnipeg is fancy stat dominated by Carolina, and it's not even close. Cam Ward puts forward a respectable effort, Andrej Nestrasil and Jordan Staal combine for three points, and Jeff Skinner generally dazzles. Ehlers does not score, but one of Copp or Armia does.

Jets lose 3-2. The homestand of sadness concludes with a 1-5-0 record.