It's the second and final meeting between the Winnipeg Jets and the New Jersey Devils. The Jets were in Newark, New Jersey back in October for just their second game of the year. Winnipeg beat New Jersey 3-1 that night and New Jersey will be eager to come into Winnipeg and return the favour.
The Jets struggles continue, they have now lost two in a row at home against Central Division foes. They are also in a stretch of games that has them play nine of 10 at home and in the first six games of that stretch have won only two of four. Other than the five-goal game against Nashville on Thursday January 14th, the Jets have only managed to score seven goals in a six of their last seven games.
New Jersey has gone 5-5 in their last 10 but won three in a row, including an impressive 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. New Jersey holds the last wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference right now but multiple teams are eager to get in so New Jersey will be motivated to continue to add to their decent road record of 13-9-2.
1. Where has all our depth gone?
With the injuries piling up on the Jets roster this season, much has been made of the Jets depth not quite being ready to handle the workload at the NHL level. Last season, as the Jets were trying to bolster their club for a playoff push, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff traded to add depth forwards Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty. In 20 games last season. Tlusty had eight points and Stempniak had 10 in 18 games for the Jets.
Opting to leave openings for the Jets youth movement this year, both players ended up signing in New Jersey this season. Tlusty is currently on the injured reserve and has been relatively quiet but Stempniak has 12 goals and 34 points. Granted he's playing on the Devils top line with Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique - which is more ice time than he would have seen in Winnipeg - but with the Jets injuries and their struggles of late, he could have been helpful on a one-year contract.
2. Nikolaj Ehlers
Rookie Nikolaj Ehlers has had a bit of a bumpy road in his first NHL season. He started the year absolutely on fire before coming back down to earth in November. Head coach Paul Maurice has continued to praise his abilities.
Ehlers 9th goal of the year
Number 9 on the season for Number 27! pic.twitter.com/qCzIcHxVx2— @NHLJets
Ehlers has four points in five games, leading all Jets in points in those games. In the last two games against Nashville, Ehlers scored two ridiculously nice breakaway goals against Pekka Rinne. Ehlers is also on the cusp of getting back into the top 10 in rookie scoring in the league, before Friday nights games, his nine goals and nine assists has him one point back on being tied for eighth amongst rookies.
3. Home town Zajac
Winnipegger Travis Zajac might not be as well known as Jonathan Toews, but he quietly has built a great NHL career. Other than one season when he had an achilles injury, Zajac barely misses any time, he's a smart two-way centre and he's a great faceoff guy. He leads the Devils in the dot with 382 faceoff wins and is in the top 25 in the league for total faceoffs taken.
He doesn't always light up the scoresheet but in the Devils game on Thursday against the Senators, it was another story. He had one goal and three assists in the Devils first four goals in the game. He'll be looking to have another big night in front of his home-town friends and family.
4. Manitoba Moose goalies
Connor Hellebuyck isn't the first Manitoba Moose goalie to jump from college to the Moose to the NHL. Devils goalie Cory Schneider, out of Boston College and drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, made his professional hockey start with the Manitoba Moose back in 2007. Schneider went on to play three seasons for the Manitoba Moose before forcing his way onto the Vancouver Canucks and there by starting the Roberto Luongo goalie saga.
Schneider is having another stellar year. His .928 save percentage has him in sixth for goalies with at least 20 games played. Before Friday nights' action, he was tied for first in starts by a goalie with Chicago's Corey Crawford at 40 games. No other goalie had played more ice time than his 2391 minutes.
5. Connor Hellebuyck
Just like Cory Schneider, Hellebuyck was dominant in college and so far just like Schneider, Hellebuyck has made the most of an opportunity with his NHL club. He's all but forced the Jets into giving him the starter job for the foreseeable future.
Hellebuyck has played 20 fewer games than Schneider this year but his save percentage is just a sliver better at .930. Hellebuyck has been the main reason the Jets even still have a little hope for a playoff spot. He was visibly upset after last night's loss, so showing that he can rebound and get right back to his solid game will be important, and who better to do that against than the other best goalie that the Manitoba Moose club ever saw.