If you’re a Winnipeg Jets fan, life is good. The first win is already in the books and surprise performances from a few players in game one have the future looking bright.
But all that could change as the Jets welcome the Los Angeles Kings to the MTS Centre Friday night in their first regular season home game of the year.
Here are five things to watch:
Home sweet home
In 2011, Jets fans rewarded the arrival of an NHL team back to Winnipeg by selling out the MTS Centre for the next three years. In return, the Jets gave them something to cheer for, finishing the season with a 23-13-5 record at home.
The same couldn’t be said for the 2013 lockout-shortened campaign the following year.
'They're excited after a long summer and so are the players' - Jets Captain Andrew Ladd on playing in home opener
The Jets finished with a 13-10-1 record at home, including back-to-back losses against division-rival Washington that all but eliminated Winnipeg's chances of clinching the southeast division.
The Jets will look to reclaim their dominance at home Friday night when they take on the Kings. And Jets captain Andrew Ladd is looking forward to playing in front of the home faithful.
“They're excited after a long summer and so are the players,” he said.
There’s no question that Winnipeg fans are some of the loudest in the league, making it one of the toughest places to play for opposing teams. But too many times last season the Jets were unable to take advantage of this.
With eight of their next nine games at the MTS Centre, the Jets have will have plenty of opportunity to give the home crowd something to cheer about.
Up for grabs
Head coach Claude Noel made no bones about it when declaring a vacancy on his third forward line was up for grabs.
Following Thursday’s practice, Noel discussed the battle between Eric Tangradi and James Wright for spot alongside Olli Jokinen and Michael Frolik.
"To me it's a toss up between those two guys,” commented Noel. “I like both their games. It's a situation where I'm looking to see what fits."
Wright started on the third line in Tuesday night’s contest against Edmonton but was replaced by Tangradi late in the game. Tangradi would go on to eventually set up the game-winning goal with a beautiful no-look pass to Frolik.
"Did it surprise me?” said Noel with a cheeky grin. “I was pretty happy. Lets put it that way."
Tangradi will get the nod for Friday’s game but it will be his play that dictates
whether or not he’ll end there.
"You don't play well then move out of the way cause somebody else is coming in,”
said Noel. “That's up to them."
In an 82-game season, it’s important for players to have a strong start to the year.
For the NHL’s elite forwards this usually means getting involved on the score sheet with a nice goal or assist. Such is the case for Jets superstar Evander Kane.
But in a 5-4 win against the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night, Kane finished the game with just four shots and was an even plus-minus in just over 19 minutes of ice time.
That’s not to suggest Kane had a bad game but as a fierce competitor looking to hit the 30-plus goal mark for the second time in his career, offensive production is top of mind.
Kane told CBC’s Mitch Peacock following practice Thursday that he wants to become “a more prolific goal scorer in this league.”
Expect the Jets coaching staff to give him every chance to do so Friday night.
A physical affair
If you think Friday’s game will be anything like Tuesday’s matchup against Edmonton, think again.
The Jets are well aware of how lucky they are to have come away with a win against an injury-riddled Oilers team, despite losing the special teams battle and trailing by a goal in the third period.
'L.A. doesn't give you much. They're a heavy team and we're going to have to be prepared to play a heavy game and match their physicality' - Evander Kane
“In the National Hockey League those are recipes for not having success,” said Noel. “We know we dodged a bullet and we know we have a lot of work to do to get better."
The players understand they’ll need to play a tougher game if they want the same result against the Kings.
"I think they're two pretty different teams,” commented Jets forward Evander Kane. “L.A. doesn't give you much. They're a heavy team and we're going to have to be prepared to play a heavy game and match their physicality.”
The Jets should be up for the task. Winnipeg finished fourth in the league last season with 1,411 total hits. The Kings were second with 1,446.
Expect this game to be played along the boards with the potential of things heating up quickly.
The last time these two teams played each other was on Dec. 27, 2011 with the Jets playing host at the MTS Centre.
An Evander Kane goal was the difference in a 1-0 win for Winnipeg.
Los Angeles went on to become Stanley Cup champions, capping off arguably the most impressive playoff run in recent history, while Winnipeg missed the post-season by eight points.
But this is a new season with new expectations. Only eight players from that Winnipeg team remain on the roster with many key pieces added since then.
Friday night will be the first real test for the Jets this year and true reminder of the talent that exists in the Western Conference.
The Kings are a more experienced team who know how to win. A strong message from Jets brass throughout training camp was the objective to get better with each game.
The Jets will play the Kings three times this year. It will be series like these that will be used as a measuring stick for success.
Prediction: 4 – 3 Kings.
The Jets are still flying high from their first season-opening win in three years since relocating from Atlanta.
That positive energy in the Jets dressing room should translate in to a strong effort on the ice but it won’t be enough to topple a well-rounded team like L.A.
The Kings are coming off a 3-2 overtime win against Minnesota Thursday night but fatigue won’t be an issue this early in the season.
The Jets will keep it close if Kane and the second line have a strong game. But assuming Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick gets the start again Friday, three goals are the most one can assume he’ll let in.