The Winnipeg Jets will look to bounce back from consecutive losses at home earlier this week when they welcome the Ottawa Senators to town Saturday afternoon. The Jets (30-27-7) kicked off the week with a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders Tuesday, followed by a 3-1 loss to the L.A. Kings Thursday night.
The Senators (27-25-11) haven’t fared much better since returning from the Olympic break. The Sens have dropped three of their past four games, and have been outscored 15-8 during that stretch. Winnipeg is the last stop for Ottawa on their four-game roadie through Western Canada.
With that, here are five things to keep in mind for tonight’s game:
Despite Ottawa’s current struggles, the Jets have an unfavourable history against the Sens. Winnipeg dropped their only game against Ottawa this season, losing 4-3 at Canadian Tire Centre back on Jan. 2. Tied 2-2 heading in to the third period, the Jets allowed two goals in a span of less than five minutes to fall behind. Olli Jokinen would cut the lead in half, scoring with 5:29 to go in the period, but Ottawa would hold on to earn a clean, two points.
Winnipeg didn’t have much luck during last year’s lockout-shortened season, either. They dropped two of three games, and were outscored 8-3, winning their only match in a tight 1-0 game. It won’t be an easy one for the Jets, but with only 18 games left in the regular season, you can expect every game to be tight.
Behind the line
With the season coming to a close, the Jets find themselves once again in the playoff hunt. As it stands, the Jets are three points back of the Dallas Stars, who also have a game in hand, for the second wild card spot in the West. It’s become a common notion that 95 points in the standings would be enough to earn a spot in the postseason, in the west. If that’s true, the Jets, who currently have 67 points, would need to earn 28 more in the remaining 18 games.
Take that number and turn it in to a win-loss record and it looks something like this: the Jets would need to go 13-3-2 to reach that mark. Indeed, it will be a difficult task. But consider this: head coach Paul Maurice seems to get the best out of this team. He’s 11-4-2 since taking over. The Jets will have to be even better, a tall order when you consider centreman Mark Scheifele won’t be there to help with the push.
Speaking of Scheifele, the 20-year-old’s absence from the lineup has created quite the change in team makeup when it comes to line combinations up front. Maurice, with few options left at centre, elected to put Michael Frolik down the middle alongside Devin Setoguchi and Matt Halischuk on the third line.
Blake Wheeler, captain Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little were once again reunited as the team’s top line, and Dustin Byfuglien, Jokinen and Evander Kane made up the second unit. Jim Slater, Anthony Peluso and Eric Tangradi made up the fourth line.
If you like what you just read, you’re in luck. Maurice confirmed Thursday after practice he would be running the same lineup. If you’re not a fan, the chance Maurice mixes things up is there, especially if the Jets come out slow. In Thursday’s game, the Jets bench boss swapped Wheeler for Byfuglien in hopes of creating a spark. If the Jets find themselves in need of a goal, don’t be surprised if he does it again.
Opportunity for Olli
With Scheifele on the shelf, it becomes an opportune time for Jokinen to show his worth on this team. The debate has begun as to whether the 35-year-old Finn should be signed to an extension. Many believed him to be a piece that could have been moved at the March 6 trade deadline, but thanks to injuries up the middle, the Jets opted to keep him on the roster without a contract for next year.
Jokinen didn’t impress much in his first season with the Jets. In 45 games last year, Jokinen registered just seven goals, and seven assists for 14 points. This year he’s fared much better, scoring 15 goals and chipping in 20 assists for 35 points in 64 games. With the status of Scheifele still uncertain for this season, Jokinen will have the chance to write his own destiny with the Jets, one that could last a few more years if he strings together a strong finish to this year.
Unlike the Jets, the Senators made a splash at the trade deadline earlier this week. With four points separating them from the final playoff spot in the East, Ottawa decided to add some firepower up front in hopes of closing that gap by season’s end.
Ottawa was part of three trades Wednesday, the most notable being a swap with the Edmonton Oilers for forward Ales Hemsky in return for two draft picks. In 56 games this season, Hemsky has nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points. With the addition of Hemsky, along with snipers Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan, the Jets defencemen will have their hands full once again.