The Winnipeg Jets (4-5-0) wrap up a six-game home stand Tuesday night when they welcome the Washington Capitals (3-5-0) to the MTS Centre.
The Jets will look to rebound after a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators Sunday night, while the Caps hope to build off a 4-1 win against Columbus.
Here are five things to watch for heading in to tonight’s game.
Protecting the house
Remember when the MTS Centre used to be a tough place for opposing teams to play?
The Jets went 23-13-5 at home in their first season back in Winnipeg. Since then, Winnipeg has gone 16-14-1, including a 3-4 record this season.
“We definitely thought we’d have a little better luck at home but it’s a bit like last year right now,” said Jets centre Bryan Little after practice Monday. “We win one and we lose one and we got to try and get out of this.
“Our effort at home definitely needs to be a lot better, too. We've got to get back to this arena being hard to play in and right now it’s too easy for teams to come in and out work us.”
The Jets are 2-3 on their current six-game home stand, which is the longest stretch at home this season.
Players and coaches know how important it is to protect the house and they know what’s at stake if they don’t. Expect the Jets to put forth the their best effort of the year against a Washington team that’s had their number over the past year.
The Jets dropped back-to-back home games to the Caps last season, sparking their downfall in the standings.
Washington would go on to claim top spot in the division, clinching a playoff berth while the Jets traded hockey sticks for golf clubs in late April.
But it wasn’t just those two games that Washington would get the better of the Jets. The Caps won four-of-five meetings between the two teams in 2012-2013, outscoring Winnipeg 20-8 during those games.
Asked whether that was enough ammunition for the Jets to get up for the game Tuesday, Jets captain Andrew Ladd diverted his answer away from the past, and instead, focused on the present.
“I think it’s more with this group in here than who we’re playing to be honest,” said Ladd. “I think that’s what’s holding us back right now.
"We need a lot better efforts from a lot of guys and I think we’ll just focus on what we have to do in here and our game plan and doing the right things and the rest will take care of itself.”
Jets fans can only hope that focus will be in tune against a Washington club equipped with a number of dangerous players.
Ovi and co.
Known to his fans as “The Great 8”, Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin is more of a great pain to Jets faithful.
In five games last season, Ovechkin torched the Jets for four goals and five assists. The skillful Russian has been off to a hot start so far this season, scoring seven goals and adding three assists to lead his team.
If the Jets will have any success Tuesday, it will begin with shutting down No. 8.
Then there’s that obstacle at the other end of the rink — Caps goaltender, Braden Holtby. Holtby’s attractive 2012-2013 season, in which the 2008 fourth-round draft pick finished with a 23-12-1 record, caught the eyes of Team Canada executive director, Steve Yzerman, who invited the 24-year-old to Olympic orientation camp earlier this year.
Holtby had a fair amount of success against the Jets last year. The Saskatchewan native recorded two of his season’s four shutouts against the Jets, earning a 4-1 record in five meetings.
He’ll start in net for Washington Tuesday, having allowed just five goals in his last three starts after allowing 13 in four games to start the year.
Holtby’s performance will be under a microscope until the Olympic team has been decided. He’ll want to prove his worth against a struggling Winnipeg team hurting to score goals.
On the hot seat
Jets head coach Claude Noel can’t be comfortable with where he stands right now within the Jets organization.
Noel signed a one-year contract extension over the offseason, a small vote of confidence from the Jets' brass with a clear message that positive results are wanted now.
After the Jets won their first two games, it’s been a see-saw of highs and lows for a Winnipeg team that is losers in five of their last seven games.
“My job is to get the best out of our team and our players,” said Noel following practice Monday. “That’s very clear.
“That’s my job and if I don’t do that there are consequences. I clearly understand those things.“
A lacklustre effort from his team again tonight and the conversation of whether or not Noel is the right fit for this team will be sure to mount.
Return to sender
But it can’t be all on the coach, right? After all, it’s the players who play the game.
So it comes as no surprise that the Jets locker room Monday was one of sombreness and doubt.
“I don’t know how you could be happy when you watch yourself play like that,” said Noel of his team. “If you want to be happy or have joy or have confidence, then build it.
“Start with winning games, that’ll bring some joy. Play better, that will bring you confidence. That’s how you do it. Work first, skill later. It’s not that tough. We need more from the players and they know [it].”
Winnipeg has juggled lines and benched players, all in an attempt to get things back on track. Noel said a majority of Monday morning was spent talking with players, both as a team and individually.
Tuesday night will be the first chance to see just who got the message.
Prediction: 4-3 Jets
It’s a battle between two struggling teams.
The Jets have a lot to prove in their final match of a six-game home stand. If they can stay out of the box – the Caps are tops in the league on the power play – then it could prove to be the game Noel and Co. need to right the ship.
Jets squeeze out a close one. But really, it could go either way at this point.