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Game #40 Preview and GDT: Winnipeg Jets at Tampa Bay Lightning

Winnipeg embarks upon a three-game swing through the Eastern Conference

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets (17-19-3) will continue their up and down season tonight against a hobbled Tampa Bay Lightning (19-15-4) squad.

After defeating Vancouver and Chicago, Winnipeg ended its 2016 with two straight losses to Columbus and the New York Islanders, looking particularly listless in the latter. While they're no Arizona or Colorado, the Jets are a ways off from looking like legitimate playoff race contenders. 2017 offers yet another opportunity to mentally hit the refresh button.

With a 7-11-2 record away from the MTS Centre, Winnipeg kicks off the year with a three-game swing through the Eastern Conference. After tonight, they'll head a stone's throw away to face the Florida Panthers, followed by a Saturday afternoon match-up against the Buffalo Sabres. Tampa Bay's 11-5-2 record at home doesn't inspire any extra confidence.

Even with a couple pointless tilts in the mix, Nikolaj Ehlers still has seven points in his last six games, as does Blake Wheeler. The wingers are on pace for 65 and 61 points, respectively, and the former's continued development serves as a bright spot in an otherwise middling season. Not exactly known for his blistering offence, Jacob Trouba has posted four points over the last three games, which is especially good considering Dustin Byfuglien's chilled production of late.

Speaking of chilly, neither Connor Hellebuyck nor Michael Hutchinson have been lighting the world on fire of late. Helle was far from good enough in a .733 Sv% effort against the Islanders, and the same is true of Hutch's .857 Sv% performance vs. Columbus. With that said, the idea that Ondrej Pavelec is the answer is moderately bizarre. (As is the notion that Hellebuyck and Hutchinson have been equal and interchangeable. They have not.)

Hurt in no small part by the absence of Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay isn't even a playoff lock, forget the dominant team of seasons past. The Lightning have looked better of late, racking up a 4-1-1 record to end December. It's no coincidence that Tampa's goalie of record during that stretch was Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 22-year-old Russian has a significantly better save percentage (.918) and record (10-5-2) than the currently injured Ben Bishop (.907, 9-10-2). Vasilevskiy has been Tampa Bay's goalie of the future ever since he was drafted 19th overall in 2012, and his performance this year should give the Lightning confidence in waving goodbye to Bishop at season's end.

With Stamkos, Brayden Point, Cedric Paquette and Brian Boyle all hurt, tonight will see 2013 draft selection Adam Erne make his NHL debut. A pitbull on skates, Erne adds a solid mixture of skill, mobility and toughness to a fourth line already featuring J.T. Brown.

When, Where & How

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m. CT, Amalie Arena
Radio: 970 WFLA, TSN 1290

Winnipeg Jets Projected Lineup

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Nikolaj Ehlers Mark Scheifele Patrik Laine
Mathieu Perreault Bryan Little Blake Wheeler
Shawn Matthias Adam Lowry Joel Armia
Andrew Copp Nic Petan Drew Stafford
Left Defence
Right Defence
Josh Morrissey Dustin Byfuglien
Toby Enstrom Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot Paul Postma
Connor Hellebuyck
Michael Hutchinson

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lineup

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Ondrej Palat Tyler Johnson Nikita Kucherov
Jonathan Drouin Valtteri Filppula Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn Vladislav Namestnikov Matthew Peca
Adam Erne Michael Bournival J.T. Brown
Left Defence
Right Defence
Victor Hedman Anton Stralman
Slater Koekkoek Jason Garrison
Braydon Coburn Andrej Sustr
Andrei Vasilevskiy
Kristers Gudlevskis