The Winnipeg Jets got a rare taste of defeat Tuesday night, losing just their second game in eight contests under new head coach Paul Maurice. The Jets (25-25-5) fell 4-3 to the Nashville Predators to fall back in to the basement of the Central Division.
They’ll look to climb their way back out when they welcome the Vancouver Canucks to the MTS Centre tonight. The Canucks (27-19-9) are coming off back-to-back losses, with their most recent defeat coming at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-2, Wednesday night.
Now that you’re up to speed, here are five things to keep in mind for tonight’s match.
Third time’s a charm
The Canucks were winners in the only match so far this season between these two teams. Defenceman Christopher Tanev scored midway through the third period en route to a 2-1 victory in Vancouver back on Dec. 22. Evander Kane scored the lone goal for the Jets, a power play marker 11:22 in to the second frame, and Ondrej Pavelec stopped 23 of 25 shots in the loss.
The Jets have yet to beat the Canucks since their return to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. With no games last year due to the lockout-shortened season, Vancouver took the lone match in the Jets inaugural year with a 3-2 win.
With both losses coming on the road, will home be what the Jets need to earn their first win over the Canucks? They only hope that third times the charm.
Carrying the load
It doesn’t seem to matter who you throw out on a line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele these days, they just seem to get the job done. Wheeler, who leads the Jets with 44 points this season, scored his career-high 22nd goal in the loss to Nashville Tuesday. He’s currently on a three game point streak where he has five points, four of which are goals.
Scheifele continues to make his bid for the Calder trophy, awarded to the top rookie in the NHL, with his stellar play alongside Wheeler. Scheifele has three points in his last three games and is a plus-2. The duo has carried the Jets for a number of games since Maurice reunited them on a line and the Jets' head coach must be happy with the result.
With Evander Kane out of the lineup until after the Olympic break with an injured hand, many believed forward Eric O’Dell might get his to play as a top-six forward. Instead, Maurice opted to go back to Chris Thorburn, a regular on the fourth line. Thorburn played well against the Predators, scoring his first goal of the season, a nice tip in off a Mark Stuart shot from the point.
Maurice knows he needs to get more from his other guys, especially the line of Byfuglien, Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi. Maurice noted Thursday he’s been happy with the play of Buff up front but a few more games without secondary scoring from this trio and that mood could change quickly.
Fatigue setting in
If there’s one thing coach Maurice isn’t afraid to do, it’s to run three lines up front. The Jets' bench boss made no quips about it following the loss Tuesday. When asked how long he could limit the fourth lines' minutes and get away with it, Maurice said he felt his top three lines have yet to feel the pinch of added minutes.
Anthony Peluso has become a regular on the fourth unit since the arrival of Maurice. But even with more injections in to the lineup, Peluso has been limited to less than five minutes of ice in each of his last five games. The same goes for O’Dell and James Wright, with Wright playing a little more due to his role on the penalty kill.
If you were to ask most Jets fans, they’d agree with the move to sit the fourth line, arguing their liability in the defensive zone. But all good teams in the NHL roll four lines. It allows players the rest they need to stay fresh and with 55 games already in to the season, fatigue will eventually become an issue.
Friday night fight
If you’re one of those people who like to mix the numbers with a little superstition, then consider this: on Friday night games this season, the Jets are 6-2-0, and have outscored their opponents 30-20. Why is that, you ask? Your guess is as good as mine, but nonetheless, the numbers don’t lie.
Byfuglien leads the way with nine points in those games, scoring three goals and adding six assists during that stretch. Jokinen has eight points (2g, 6a) which offers some hope that the veteran forward will be able to snap his current six-game pointless drought. Wheeler has seven points during that stretch with four of those being goals and captain Andrew Ladd has six assists in those games as well.
Where it all started
For a number of players on the Canucks, the trip to Winnipeg is a return to where it all started. With the Manitoba Moose the American Hockey League affiliate for the Canucks for 10 seasons prior to the Jets return, the visitor’s lineup is as familiar to Jets fans as the team they cheer for each and every home game.
For the better part of that decade Jets fans watched a group of young players develop in to what is now a substantial core of the Vancouver Canucks team you see today. Forwards Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Jordan Schroeder, and Jannik Hansen, along with defenceman Kevin Bieksa, Tanev and Alex Edler, and goaltender Eddie Lack, all made stops in Winnipeg before securing their dream job in the NHL.
Not all will be on display, however, as Bieksa (foot) and Tanev (broken thumb) will miss the game due to injury.
Prediction: 3-2 Canucks
It will be a tall order for the Jets to knock off a Vancouver team that’s holding on to the final playoff spot in the West. It’s rare that a team like the Canucks drop three straight games in a season. It’s the first of five road games for the Canucks, which will take them to the Olympic break, so you can bet they’ll want to get off to a strong start. Canucks pick up the win and Jets drop their second straight game.