5 things to watch as the Winnipeg Jets face Detroit on Tuesday
In 11 games in December, Detroit has only lost 2 in regulation, earning 15 of a possible 24 points
The 16-17-2 Winnipeg Jets win against the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday night was a good moral victory but it isn't enough to right the ship.
The Jets are 5-5 in the month of December and are currently toiling away at the bottom of the Central Division and they need to start stringing wins together to make up some ground.
They'll look to do that Tuesday night at the MTS Centre when the 18-10-7 Detroit Red Wings fly into town. In 11 games in December, Detroit has only lost two in regulation, earning 15 of a possible 24 points.
Just like the Penguins did on the weekend, Detroit has to play Monday night in Minnesota and then play the very next night in Winnipeg. The Jets have gone 4-1 so far when meeting teams on the back end of back-to-back games. Winnipeg will be looking for a quick start to take advantage of the short turnaround for the Wings.
Lowry needs to launch
The injury to Mark Scheifele has shaken up a lot in the forward corps for the Winnipeg Jets.
Scheifele was playing a large role on this team as the number two centre-man and with him out, Paul Maurice needs to find the right fit for all his forwards. With any injury though it means opportunity for the next guy, and the biggest opportunity this could open up could be for forward Adam Lowry.
There were large expectations for Lowry, 22, heading into this season, after an 80-game and 23-point rookie season last year. In training camp there had even been an indication that he might get a look centring the top line.
From there though, it's been a bumpy road since September and Lowry has seen his role diminish to playing as a winger on the fourth line, before being sent down to the Manitoba Moose in the middle of December. The injury to Scheifele has now opened the door for Lowry to not only get called back up to the big club but be relied upon for some big minutes.
Sunday night against Pittsburgh was the first test of that and he was centring a unit with Andrew Ladd and Alexander Burmistrov. He played almost 17 minutes of hockey and took 16 faceoffs, winning 50 per cent of them. He will likely be relied upon for some big minutes against Detroit come Tuesday night.
What can't be said about 22-year-old Connor Hellebuyck? Nine games into his NHL career he's 6-3 with a really good .926 save percentage. In the month of December for goalies that have played at least eight games his save percentage ranks him eighth in the league.
The Jets one-goal win against Pittsburgh on Sunday earns Hellebuyck his first career shutout. Even though defenceman Tyler Myers should get credit for one of Hellebuyck's saves last night, he had 30 saves against a highly-skilled Penguins team.
It was the kind of performance that only helps to cement his role in the blue paint for the Jets going forward.
Stafford moves up
Drew Stafford seems to do everything right. He shows up every day, works hard, competes and plays a physical yet smart brand of hockey.
When he re-signed this off-season it could have felt more like a depth signing but it has to be looked at as more. His two-year contract should be seen as more of a trial and a chance for him to prove that he is capable of producing more after toiling in Buffalo for almost a decade.
After tallying 19 points in 26 games with the Jets last season, he happily went to work at the beginning of this season on the Jets third line. When rookie Nikolaj Ehlers and the Jets second line started to go cold head coach Paul Maurice moved Stafford onto that second line and he instantly made an impact.
That line of Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault and Stafford was lights out. In the month of December, the trio combined for 23 points.
Stafford this season has four game-winning goals,tops for the Jets and tied for eighth in the NHL.
In the line shakeup of Sunday night, Stafford was once again asked to do more and put on the top line with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler — another chance to see if this savvy veteran can reach new heights.
When will Ehlers take off
If you watched Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, you saw flashes of how brilliant 19-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers can be.
Multiple times he made the opposition defenders look like pylons sitting still on the ice, his ability to turn his speed up an extra notch and control the puck with his stick is uncanny.
There were even moments when the speedy youngster was beating and holding off Sidney Crosby to loose pucks.
Maurice has also been more than happy with how the rookie is playing defensively. If there was ever a time though that the team needed him to get hot again, it would be right now.
The original dynamic duo
When you think of the upper echelon teams in the NHL you often think of the dynamic duos that lead those successful franchises. In Pittsburgh it's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Dallas has Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Anaheim has centre Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Vancouver with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Although of still active star duos, the original might have to be Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Russian native Datsyuk, 37, has played his entire NHL career with the Red Wings. In 907 career games he's had 881 points. Zetterberg, 35, has also played all 12 of his NHL seasons with the Red Wings and has amassed 813 points in 871 games.
These two continue to be a force and the biggest challenge for their opponents.