Christmas break is over for the Winnipeg Jets as they get set to take on the Minnesota Wild Friday night at the MTS Centre.
The Jets (16-18-5) are coming off back-to-back losses against Vancouver on Sunday and Edmonton Monday. The Wild (20-14-5) are losers of three straight including identical 4-1 losses to the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers earlier this week.
One team will snap their respective losing streak.
With that, here are five things to keep in mind during tonight’s game:
Talk is cheap
The 6-2 loss to Edmonton on Monday left head coach Claude Noel and his players scrambling to find excuses for yet another half-filled effort.
Winnipeg was outplayed in every period, in every way, en route to being outscored for the 21st time this season.
“This leaves you in a sour position, is really what it does,” Noel said following the loss. “We’ll reflect on it, we’ll move forward when we get back from the break and then we’ll go from there.
"There’s a certain way you have to play to win games. We know that way. We just aren’t willing to play it game-in, game-out.”
Which Jets team takes the ice will be a strong indicator as to whether this team is ready to push for the playoffs or throw in the towel on the season. It’s certainly a dramatic approach to take considering the Jets have yet to hit the season’s halfway mark, but it’s come time for many in the dressing room — including captain Andrew Ladd — to put up or shut up.
“At some point everyone here has to step up and decide they want to change and until that, talk is cheap,” said Ladd.
Better days have been had for both of these clubs. In the last 10 games the Jets are 3-6-1, while the Wild are just slightly better at 4-6-1.
One of these teams are going to get out of their current funk, and if history means anything, it’s pointing to Minnesota to end up on top.
The Wild have won all three matches against Winnipeg this season. But that’s not to say it won’t be close.
In five games between these two teams since the Jets return to the NHL two seasons go, every contest has been decided by a single goal.
The Jets are 2-2-1 during that stretch, losing 3-2 in a shootout in the most recent match back on Nov. 23.
Wild netminder Josh Harding is expected to return to the lineup Friday and if healthy, should be named the starter against the Jets.
Harding has missed the last three games in order to properly alter his treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Harding leads the NHL with a 1.51 goals-against-average, is in an eight-way tie for shutouts this season with three, and has the second-best save percentage in the league at .939.
Harding defeated the Jets in the first two games this season, but had to be sidelined in their latest match after sustaining a lower-body injury in warm up.
Ondrej Pavelec allowed six goals in his last start for the Jets but given the holiday break, he should be expected to get the start in net. Pavelec has played all three games versus the Wild this season. The 26-year-old Czech has stopped 83 of 89 shots in those games for a .933 save percentage but remains winless.
Noel on the hot seat
There is no doubt coach Noel is feeling the heat, the byproduct of being unable to right the ship.
Noel's squad is two games below .500 in arguably the best division in the NHL. Inconsistency won’t cut it and he knows that.
The Jets have won consecutive games just three times this season. Good teams only lose consecutive games that many times. Right now the Jets are backwards and need straightening out.
Three coaches have already been relieved of their duties this season. Philadelphia Flyers bench boss, Peter Laviolette, was given the boot just three games into the season after leading the Flyers to the post season in three of the previous four years, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. Ron Rolston (Buffalo Sabres) and Kevin Dineen (Florida Panthers) were the latest to get the axe.
Noel signed a one-year contract extension over the off-season, good until the end of next season. Not much would be lost in terms of dollars for the Jets should they choose to end that commitment early.
Just speculation at this point but expect that conversation to rise if the losing skid continues.
Another one bites the dust
The Jets placed defenceman Grant Clitsome on injured reserve Thursday, retroactive from an injury on Dec. 17, which was said to be an illness by coaching staff.
Clitsome is just the latest Jets defenceman to miss time due to injury. Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom are the only two Winnipeg D-men to have played all 39 games this season.
With Clitsome out and Zach Bogosian working with Enstrom at practice Thursday, it looks like Trouba will remain with Mark Stuart and Byfuglien will be back with Adam Pardy.
Byfuglien, Pardy, and Bogosian all finished a minus-2 in Monday’s loss. Tightening up on defence will be top of mind for the Jets and it will have to start from their veteran core on the blue line.
Prediction: 2-1 Jets
Something has to give for Winnipeg.
Frustration continues to build, hitting a season-high after the loss to Edmonton.
Both teams are struggling but with the Jets needing a win in a big way, they should break out of the slump on home ice.