5 things to watch for as Jets battle the Bolts
The Winnipeg Jets look to get back in to the win column when they take on the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.
Tampa Bay (25-13-4) sits second in the Atlantic Division, separated by just four points from the Boston Bruins for top spot, but are coming off a 5-3 loss to the league’s second-worst team, the Edmonton Oilers, on Sunday night.
Winnipeg (19-21-5) returns home from a three-game swing through the Eastern Conference where they were unable to snatch up a victory despite two of those games being settled by just a single goal.
It wasn’t the kind of roadie the Jets had planned for.
Prior to the trip, Winnipeg had won three straight at home and things were starting to look up. But like so many times before, they’ve dug a hole for themselves and the dressing room is once again feeling the heat.
“Anytime you lose three in a row [frustration] builds and builds and builds,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd said following practice Monday at the MTS Centre.
“It’s trying to find a way to break that skid and get things going the right way.”
A return home may just be what the doctor ordered. The Jets are 10-8-4 on home ice this season. Surely nothing to brag about, but still an improvement on the 9-13-1 record on the road.
Winnipeg’s power play is also better in front of the home crowd. Dating back to Nov. 15, the Jets are clicking at 30.6 per cent with the man advantage, scoring on 11 of their last 36 opportunities. Ladd leads the team in points at home with 20 (6g, 14a).
Oh, you again
It’s the second game between these two teams this season. The Jets capped off their season-high six-game road trip earlier in the year with 2-1 overtime win over the Bolts back on Dec. 7.
Tampa will seek retribution in similar style as their trip to Winnipeg in the last stop on their current three-game skid through western Canada.
Once southeast division foes, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay are all too familiar with one another since the Jets return in 2011. Winnipeg holds the edge, winning seven of the 11 totals games and earning a single point in two more for a 7-2-2 overall record.
Welcome to the (young) gun show
There’s no doubt it’s been a disappointing season but with rookies Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, the future sure looks bright for the Jets.
Both these young guns continue to develop at an alarming pace and it’s become evident the future of the Jets will one day fall into their hands.
Scheifele, 20, leads all rookies with 15 assists, and is ninth in points with 22, just six off of Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for the league lead. He’s become the anchor of what has been the Jets best line of late, playing alongside Evander Kane and Michael Frolik.
Trouba, 19, is slowly becoming the Jets best blue liner. Promoted to the top pairing with Tobias Enstrom, Trouba is averaging over 21 minutes of ice time per game.
He’s been especially hot of late, scoring five points in his last six games and is a plus-5 during that stretch.
Eye on the big guy
Keep a close eye on Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien in this game. He’s becoming a marked man for fan frustration.
In a 6-5 loss to Pittsburgh Saturday, the big man was on the ice for all but one of the goals against, finishing a minus-3 in the game. Twice he turned the puck over in the Jets end and both times they ended up in the back of the net.
“Not consistent,” Byfuglien answered after practice Monday when asked about his recent play.
“Not playing my top [level] right now but it’s something that I need to find out myself and figure out how to do my best and help the team out.”
Head coach Claude Noel has battled this problem before. The inconsistency of one of his best players has plagued Noel and the team through the last 2 ½ seasons. Byfuglien is a team-worst minus-14 on the year despite being tied for second in points with 32.
“Dustin knows where he’s at with his game and we know where we’re at with his game,” Noel said. “He can be a very good player and we need him to be a little bit better.”
Carrying the load
Many wondered what would happen to the Tampa Bay Lighting with their superstar Steven Stamkos on the mend with a broken leg he suffered back on Nov. 11 in a game against Boston.
Most guessed a total collapse. Instead, the Bolts are 13-8-4 without their go-to guy, five games above .500 and on pace to make the postseason for the first time in three years.
The credit for their success this season lands on the backs of a number of players who have stepped up in Stamkos’ absence, none more than veteran winger Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis, 38, leads the Lightning with 17 goals and 38 points in 42 games. In 11 career games against the Jets he has three goals and 10 points.
Prediction: 4-3 Jets
It’s become a pattern for the Jets this season to win a game, then lose one.
They’ve lost three now so that tiny step forward should be in the cards tonight.
Much of the game will depend on the play of Bolts’ goaltender Ben Bishop, but if the Jets can get to him early a win should be in the books.