Points in the standings haven’t come easy for the Winnipeg Jets since returning from the Olympic break. Winnipeg (30-29-9) has managed to pick up only two wins in their last eight games, including six straight losses.
They’ll look to turn things around in what is arguably a make-or-break game against the Dallas Stars as they stroll in to town Sunday night having earned points in their last four games, collecting a 3-0-1 record in that span.
With that, here are five things to set you up for tonight’s game:
From past to present
It’s the fourth of five games between these two teams this season. The Stars have edged the Jets in two of three games so far this year, winning their most recent match, 6-4, back on Dec. 14 in Winnipeg.
Stars’ forward Tyler Seguin led the way with two goals and two assists, and captain Jamie Benn added a pair of goals in the second period en route for the win. Jets Blake Wheeler scored twice and Ondrej Pavelec earned the loss after being replaced by back-up Al Montoya to start the third period after allowing five goals on 24 shots.
With a win Sunday, Dallas can clinch the season series and devastatingly hurt the Jets chances of making the post season.
Catching some air
So, just how devastating would a loss Sunday be to the Jets’ playoff hopes? Consider this: Winnipeg is currently six points behind the Stars for the final wildcard spot in the West with just 14 games left on the schedule.
Win this one and the margin is cut down to four points. A loss, and it’s up to eight. The Jets locker room understands there won’t be a more important two points down this final stretch.
“Absolutely, come on,” said Maurice following practice Saturday, when asked about the weight behind the game.
“This is their chance to get back in to the fight here. We did something exceptionally special to close a gap, and I don’t think any team in NHL history has closed that gap and then stumbled. Now we got a chance to keep breathing, get your head close to the surface so you can see a little light coming.”
Pav out, Monty in
The Jets’ search for light becomes even tougher as they’ll have to do it without their starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec for the next two games. Pavelec suffered a lower body injury in the first period of Friday’s loss to the New York Rangers.
With Pav out, Montoya will get the nod between the pipes.
“I feel like I’ve given the team a chance to win most of the time I’ve been in the net and that’s my goal,” said a confident Montoya. “I’m going to go in there and compete, and I’m going to take it one game at a time.”
Montoya has played well this season, posting a 10-5-5 record on the year. He’s an experienced goalie, something Maurice knows is important given the current situation.
“Having a guy with some experience going in to this game, you want him excited about this game,” said Maurice. “He’s gone in to tough buildings, tough opponents, but this is a real good challenge for him cause we know the weight of this game.”
They may be the most dangerous duo in the NHL. Stars’ forwards and line mates, Seguin and Benn have both benefited from Seguin’s arrival from Boston to Dallas in a trade during the off-season. Both are currently among the top-20 in scoring in the National Hockey League.
Seguin is tied for fourth with 29 goals and 39 assists for 68 total points. Benn, with 63 (27 g, 36 a), is in a three-way tie for 16th. Seguin has 18 multi point games, scoring four or more points in five of those contests while Benn has 12 multi point games including a six-point game in a win over the Calgary Flames earlier in the year.
“Clearly, [when] you got two guys in the sixties with points that’s going to make all parts of your game feel better about itself,” said Maurice.
If what you just read isn’t scary enough, the dynamic duo has embarrassed the Jets mightily this season, combining for seven goals and six assists in three games. In both victories over the Jets this season, Seguin has recorded four-point games in each.
Needless to say, stopping these two will go a long way in determining who ends up on top.
Special teams play
If the Jets hope to contain a talented Stars offence, they’ll have to continue their strong play on the penalty kill. It’s been a while since the Jets last played against Dallas and one of their biggest improvements since that game in mid-December – they allowed two goals on five Dallas power plays – has been limiting other team’s success with the man advantage.
The Jets are ranked fourth in the NHL on the penalty kill, operating at an 84.9 per cent efficiency rate. And despite losing their last three games, two of which they earned a single point with losses in overtime and a shootout, they’ve managed to be a perfect 15 for 15 on the PK.
As for the power play, Winnipeg continues to struggle to find the back of the net. The Jets are 26th in the league with a 14.5 per cent success rate with the man advantage.
Winnipeg has scored only four times on 27 trips to the man advantage since returning from the Olympic break, and have been held with out a power play goal in their last two games (zero-for-eight). A much needed improvement will be in order if the Jets plan to play more than an 82-game schedule.