The Winnipeg Jets (7-9-2) aim to capture their third consecutive win at the MTS Centre when they welcome the San Jose Sharks (10-2-4) Sunday night.
That task will be a difficult one for the Jets as the Sharks are one of the league’s hottest teams and relatively unknown to Winnipeg. The last time the Jets faced off against the Sharks was back on January 12, 2012, when they were blanked 2-0.
So with that, here are 5 things you should look out for in tonight’s match with the Sharks:
Early in the season it looked as if the Jets would once again have trouble earning wins at home. After falling to 3-5-1 in their first eight games at the MTS Centre, the Jets have won their last two to climb back to a .500 record.
Jets coaches and players know how important it is to win in front of the home crowd. Each victory at home helps boost fan moral and are a vital two points in the standings.
“We feel like we have one of the best advantages at home in the NHL,” said Jets forward Eric Tangradi after practice Saturday. “We want to use that crowd and use that momentum and the advantage we have by coming out and playing strong.”
Two points won’t come easy against a San Jose team who has been dominant on the road this season. The Sharks are 5-1-2 in eight games away from the SAP Center, boasting one of the best away records in the NHL. San Jose has scored 24 goals for and have allowed just 14 against during that stretch.
Centre of attention
It’s no secret the Sharks have a number of weapons up front. They’ve scored the second most goals in the league, and average a league best 3.62 goals per game.
A main factor behind the Sharks scoring success is their depth at the centre position. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and rookie Tomas Hetrl round out arguably the best four-man combination at centre in the league.
“They’ve got some good depth there,” spoke Evander Kane of the Sharks depth up the middle. “They’re a team that creates a lot of offence so you’re going to have to limit their time and space and be physical on them.”
The Sharks foursome have combined for 24 goals - more than a third of the teams total - and 63 points this season. If the Jets plan to have success against the Sharks, it will start with shutting down these four.
Little making a big difference
He’s been one the hottest Jets this season and Bryan Little doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
Little’s hot hand was once again on display Friday night with the Jets centreman scoring twice in a 5-0 win against Nashville.
“Last year it seemed like every thing I shot wasn’t going in for me,” said Little following Friday’s game. “Right now it just feels like every thing I put on net is going in. I know it’s not going to last forever but I’ll enjoy it right now.”
Little leads the Jets with 10 goals and 15 points through 18 games, converting on 26 per cent of his shots on net.
Little should continue to see continued success now that he’s been reunited on a line with captain Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler. All three will need to be on the top of their games Sunday, with Little leading the way.
Dustin Byfuglien was originally credited with his first goal of the year Friday night when his shot from the point beat Nashville net minder, Carter Hutton, for the game’s third goal.
Byfuglien celebrated by grabbing an invisible monkey from off his back and throwing it in to the crowd. However, the goal would later be credited to Eric Tangradi after digital replay proved his stick got a piece of the puck before it crossed the line.
“I don’t know if it hit him,” said Byfuglien, who watched the goal together with Tangradi before surrendering it to his fellow teammate. “He doesn’t even know if it hit him. It is what it is. We’re just glad we got the two points.”
Thus, the monkey is back. Spectators beware.
Baby steps to success
The Jets have had a hard time building on success so far this season. Since opening the year with wins against Edmonton and Los Angeles, Winnipeg has yet to win consecutive games. In fact, the Jets have been outscored 19-11 in games following a win.
So it was no surprise that following practice Saturday, veteran forward, Olli Jokinen, stressed the importance of putting together back-to-back wins if the team hopes to be in the playoff race come April.
“We have to win games,” he said. We’re two games below .500 and if you want to make the playoffs in this conference you have to be 14, 15 games over .500.
“It’s a big mountain to climb but you have to take baby steps to reach there. We took a step forward [Friday] but that’s a really small step so we got to take that little step again [Sunday].
“You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low here. You got to put the work in everyday and try and get better.”
Prediction: 4-1 Sharks
The Sharks are just too deep to expect the Jets will win this one. The Sharks score more goals per game than anyone else in the NHL and their record shows they’re even better on the road than they are at home. All this spells trouble for Winnipeg who continues to find their identity within the Western Conference