The Winnipeg Jets get set to take on the Edmonton Oilers in the first of three games airing today on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada.
The Jets (21-23-5) are currently riding a two-game win streak under new head coach Paul Maurice in which they’ve outscored their opponent 10-3 including a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames Thursday night.
The Oilers (15-30-5) come in to this one losers in their last three games. Edmonton was out shot 33 to 21 in a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild Thursday night.
With that, here are five things to keep in mind for tonight’s game:
It’s the third match up of the season between these two clubs. The Jets took the first game, winning 5-4 to kick off the 2013-14 season back on Oct. 1. The Oilers evened up the season series, however, with a 6-2 shellacking over the Jets Dec. 23 in a spirited affair that ended with a whopping 63 minutes in penalties within the final four minutes of the game.
Oilers’ rookie Nail Yakupov was the cause of all the commotion after the 20-year-old forward caught Jets’ goalie, Ondrej Pavelec with what the Jets argued was a blatant forearm to the head.
“I don’t have to say anything,” said Pavelec Friday after practice when asked about the incident. “He knows what he did. He saw the replay.”
Four players on the Jets were given 10-minutes misconduct penalties including Bryan Little, who was also given an additional two minutes for slashing Yakupov.
“No one is going to go out there and do anything stupid,” answered Little when asked about retribution. “Last game was kind of the heat of the moment and everybody was fired up. It’s pretty much forgotten but I expect it to be a hard, physical game.”
The Jets may also have to wait for their chance to settle the score as Yakupov is suspected to miss the game after he sustained a concussion in the game against Minnesota Thursday.
To suggest the Jets have played poorly during matinee games would be a blatant understatement. Winnipeg has played some of their worst hockey this year.
The Jets are 0-5-1 in six games this season that have started at 2 p.m. or earlier and have been outscored 26-14 over that stretch.
“Sometimes guys just get used to their routine of playing that night,” said Little. “For me personally I like the seven o’clock games because you got that skate in the morning and you’re able to have a nap but everyone’s got to play day games so you got to get used to it. It’s all about preparing. You got to come to the rink no matter what time it is and be ready to go.”
But unlike Little, coach Maurice is a fan of day games. So much so, that if it was up to him, all games would be played early.
“I don’t know that I would do anything differently and say we have to change how we’re approaching this cause it’s an earlier game,” mentioned Maurice Friday. “I love them and most of the guys that I’ve ever dealt with really like that afternoon game so I’m expecting us to look pretty exciting [today].”
Dustin Byfuglien will hit another milestone in his career as he gets set to play in his 500th career NHL game. The Jets’ defenceman recently turned forward for the past two games and has played well alongside line mates Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi.
Byfuglien scored his first goal as a forward this season in the 5-2 win over Calgary Thursday. With some nice pressure in the offensive zone, Jokinen found the big man open in front and Byfuglien found the back of the net for his 11th of the season.
The Byfuglien-Jokinen-Setoguchi line has connected for three goals over the last two games and has provided the kind of depth scoring needed for the Jets to string together wins.
What will Buff and co. have in store for No. 500?
The Byfuglien line isn’t the only group that’s been heating up of late. So too has the Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler combo that makes up the Jets' second grouping up front.
Alongside Chris Thorburn, the duo has played exceptional over the past two games, connecting for three goals including the eventual game winner Thursday.
“We read off each other,” said Scheifele. “We both kind of play a similar game. We want the pucks on our sticks, we want to make things happen but we also want to play good defence.
Some of our goals are just playing good defence then getting a chance in the offensive zone and capitalizing when we get that chance. We just have to continue to grow as a line and get better.”
Scheifele has six points (2g, 4a) in his last five games while Wheeler has five (2g, 3a) in his last five contests.
The Jets' power play has been a main focus at practice over the past week with coach Maurice and it appears to be paying off. The Jets have scored in four consecutive games with the man advantage, two of which have been with Maurice behind the bench.
The Jets have gone five for 23 during that stretch, clicking at 21.7 per cent success rate. Winnipeg, who sat in dead last in the NHL on the PP for much of the first half of the season, is now ranked 23rd on the man advantage, scoring on 15.1 per cent of their opportunities.
The Jets are considerably better at home, however, scoring 18 of their 25 PP goals at the MTS Centre.
Prediction: 5-4 Jets
When you consider the Jets' recent firepower up front and the big-time talent on Edmonton, this game is set to be a good one. The Jets are playing with a new-found confidence and should continue their siege back to .500 against an Oilers team still trying to work out the kinks of an already lost season. The Jets win and make it three straight.