It's an interesting time to be a Winnipeg Jet right now. The Jets (19-23-5) are mired in a five-game losing streak, have dumped their head coach and one of their assistants and have welcomed a new face, at least for now, to lead them in the right direction and salvage what’s left of this season.
The Coyotes (21-14-9) have a hold on the ninth spot in the Western Conference, just four points out of the final playoff spot with four games in hand of the Minnesota Wild, who are in eighth. They’ll look to get back in the win column after dropping the last two games by a combined score of 9-4.
Needless to say, the match up tonight should make for a spirited event. Here are five things to look for heading in to the game:
New vs. old
It’s been a while since the Coyotes have made their way to Winnipeg. The Jets took the one and only game between these two clubs since the return of the Jets to Winnipeg two seasons ago. Bryan Little connected with Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler to score the only goal in a 1-0 win back on Dec. 1, 2011.
Winnipeg fans will get their second look at the team they had to give up almost 18 years ago following the relocation of the Jets to Phoenix in 1996. Only Shane Doan remains from that old Jets team.
“They’re a team that structurally plays extremely sound,” said Ladd. “They’re very patient. We haven’t seen them much, but their success is obvious. We got to play the right way and get ready to go. We should be fired up as a group in here to play as a group of 23 or 24 together.”
The Jets made national news Sunday with the firing of head coach Claude Noel and assistant, Perry Pearn. It’s still unclear as to whether the two bumped into the newly hired bench boss, Paul Maurice, on the way out the doors as the decision to get rid of Noel came at the same time their new hire was announced.
Either way, Maurice now owns controls of this rocky ship and will be expected to steer it in the right direction starting with Monday night’s game. So what are the expectations against the Coyotes?
“I’m going to be completely honest with you,” said Maurice following practice Monday. “Tonight, your guess is as good as mine. I’ve been here for four hours so let’s not think that this world’s going to change with my grace alone.
“I can tell you this, just from being around here, they want to make this better. They want a way out. They want to drive, and they want some direction with how we’re going to be able to do that. We’re going to work very hard day in and day out, giving it”
Maurice noted that focus will be on the defensive end first. Good call.
Buff still up front
One of the last moves Noel made as head coach for the Jets was to put Dustin Byfuglien, a regular on the blue line, up with his forward group.
Many wondered where the big man would be for Monday’s game, but there he was at practice Monday morning wearing a forwards jersey.
“I do truly believe that Dustin Byfuglien can be a very, very big impact defenceman, a positive impact defenceman,” said Maurice. “I also believe he can be a very strong forward.
“I’m not changing it tonight because I don’t want to be flip flopping it all over. I want to look at it, make a decision and then run with it.”
“I believe in him at both positions, and I’ll find one for him. But at the end of the day, when Dustin Byfuglien is playing as well as he’s capable, and he’s fully confident and our team’s going, there’s going to be some nights he plays both, 'cause he can.”
Byfuglien will play on a line with Devin Setoguchi and Olli Jokinen.
Another shuffle up front
The Byfuglien-Jokinen-Setoguchi line wasn’t the only change Maurice made up front. The Jets are set to ice yet another big shuffle up front.
Little will play alongside Ladd and Michael Frolik. Frolik is the new addition to the line and should add speed to the fore check.
“When someone new comes in they’re going to change things around and do things that they want,” said Little about his second line in as many games. “I think we’re still looking for that spark to kind of get us going and he’s doing the best job he can do to try and get us going so we’ll see how it goes.”
The Jets third line will be rookie Mark Schiefele with tough-guy Chris Thorburn, who slots in for an injured Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler. With Eric Tangradi out with the flu, the fourth line looks like it will be James Wright with wingers Eric O’Dell and Anthony Peluso.
It will be the first chance for Jets fans to see one of three goalies tasked with leading Canada to their second consecutive gold medal when they travel to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia come February.
Coyotes tender, Mike Smith, was one of three goalies picked by Steve Yzerman and Co. at Hockey Canada to represent the Maple Leaf. Right now, it’s a safe bet Smith will be third behind Montreal’s Carey Price and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo on Team Canada’s depth chart, but there’s a lot of time between now and when the games start. Yzerman noted the consistency of Smith when making his decision.
Smith is 15-11-8 this season with a 2.89 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage.
Prediction: 4-2 Coyotes
It’s just too much to expect the Jets to impress just a day after hiring a new head coach. The lines up front are once again new so there will be a feeling out process to start the game, which could prove costly against a speedy Phoenix team. The Coyotes are pushing for a playoff spot and can’t afford a loss against the Jets.