5 things to watch for as Jets clash with Kings
It’s all about moving forward for the Winnipeg Jets after dropping their most recent game, a 3-2 loss in overtime to a depleted New York Islanders team Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.
There’s no time to dwell on the past — a mantra that’s been commonly used by the Jets (30-26-7) throughout what’s been a see–saw season — especially when you have an opponent like the Los Angeles Kings in town.
The Kings (35-22-6) are a perfect 4-0-0 since returning from the Olympic break, with their eyes set on a fifth against the Jets Thursday night at the MTS Centre.
With that, here are five things to consider for tonight’s game:
It will only be the second game this season between the two clubs and the third since the Jets return to Winnipeg in 2011.
The Kings fell victim to the Jets’ hot start to this year, dropping a 5-3 decision to Winnipeg at the MTS Centre in October — the Jets first home game of 2013-14.
Forwards Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi led the way for the Jets with each registering three points in the win.
The Jets were also winners in the one and only game during the team’s inaugural season, blanking the Kings 1-0 back on Dec. 29, 2011. Then-Jets goalie Chris Mason stopped all 31 shots to register the shutout and Kane scored the Jets' lone goal, 1:09 into extra time.
Another benchmark game
Despite the luck the Jets have had against their opponent in recent years, something tells me staying perfect against the Kings won’t last forever.
On the other hand, a victory would help dispel any doubt that Winnipeg is for real about making a legitimate run to the playoffs.
Head coach Paul Maurice agreed Wednesday following an optional practice at the MTSIceplex, that the task would be a difficult one. He added his team will have to battle for every foot of ice if they plan to earn two points against a stingy Kings team.
“They’re playing well, not giving a whole lot up,” said Maurice, who is 11-3-2 since taking over in mid-January. “So we will not expect to be able to come out and dominate this team in their end of the ice.
“It’s going to be a fight for the three or four feet of ice that you’re playing around and that’s what we want it to be. That’s what we want it to look like as well.”
Maurice also confirmed Wednesday that rookie centreman, Mark Scheifele, was out indefinitely with a sprained MCL on his right knee.
The injury occurred in the second period of Tuesday’s game after Scheifele’s went knee-on-knee with Isles’ defenceman, Calvin de Haan.
Scheifele, 20, has been one of the Jets hottest players of late, and a key component to why they’re still in the playoff race. He’s expected to miss at least four weeks with the injury, mostly likely closer to eight before he’s back in game action, said Maurice.
Maurice noted the biggest obstacle with losing Scheifele will be filling both his position — centre on the team’s second line — and his ice time. He averages more than 16 minutes per game.
With James Wright out with a sprained ankle, Maurice hinted at the idea that he had a list of other guys on the team that could play up the middle. Kane took part in faceoff drills during practice earlier this week, which adds suspicion as to whether he may get a shot.
When asked if Kane could be a potential option, Maurice didn’t rule it out.
He did, however, mention that bringing a player up from the St. Johns’ IceCaps was something he didn’t much care for at this time, noting he felt the team was healthy enough to use the guys currently up with the club.
Winnipeg brass elected to stay put during the league’s trade deadline day Wednesday.
It’s the second straight season the Jets have done nothing significant at the deadline. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff addressed media once the clock expired on deals to explain that the right move just wasn’t on the table, despite a valiant effort by his staff to move some pieces, none of which he named.
With four players set to become unrestricted free agents by season’s end, many hoped to see a splash from the Jets, even if it meant collecting future draft picks.
Setoguchi was one of those players whose name had been tossed around as a potential rental player, but once the clock struck two, the Jets winger didn’t get the call.
For forward Bryan Little, whether or not Jets brass added a new piece to the team wasn’t high on the mental checklist.
“Things have been going pretty well lately and the team’s really coming together so it’s kind of like whatever happens, happens,” said Little.
“If they decide to do something then they obviously feel it’s for the better[ment] of the team and if they do absolutely nothing, we feel like we’ve got the guys in the room to do something special.”
There you have it. What you see is what you get with the Winnipeg Jets for the rest of this season.
Question now is, will it be enough?
Under the microscope
The Jets did, however, make one move on deadline day.
Defenceman Mark Stuart was inked to a four-year, $10.5 million contract, putting an end to the chatter about where the gritty blue liner would end up next season.
Stuart, like Setoguchi, was one of the four players set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.
Cheveldayoff noted Wednesday the importance to having a guy like Stuart on the team — identifying his character and leadership in the dressing room as the core reasons behind the offer sheet.
Right now, Stuart is slotted in as the Jets’ fourth defenceman, playing alongside rookie Jacob Trouba on the team's second pairing.
The microscope just got bigger. Once a player signs on that dotted line it becomes human nature to critique their every move. Stuart won’t be the exception.