Newark, NJ - The Winnipeg Jets take the ice Monday night against the New Jersey Devils with the hope of snapping a four-game skid dating back to a 2-1 loss to Minnesota Nov. 17.
The Devils look to rebound after their three-game win streak was snapped Saturday in a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
Both teams are hovering below the playoff line in their respective conferences, eager to snatch up a vital two points in the standings.
With that, here are five things to watch for tonight as the Jets get set to dance with the Devils.
Road to redemption
Tonight’s game marks the first of six straight road games for the Jets. And with Winnipeg dead last in the Central Division, clinging to a record of 10-11-4, they understand how important this stretch could mean for their future.
But for head coach Claude Noel, it’s the present task at hand that has to be the main focus.
“We’re going to focus on this game,” said Noel. “We know what this trip entails. We know we want to win. We know we want to have success and we also know where we sit in the standings. Somewhere in here we got to get consistently on the right side of the goal sheet.”
Old foes in the East
All six games are against old rivals from the Eastern Division. The Jets were members of the East for their first two years in Winnipeg, before a new alignment to the league moved them over to the West.
The Jets have posted a disappointing record against teams in their new conference, positing a 5-10-4 record so far this season. It’s been a different story with teams in the East as the Jets have posted a 4-1-1 record in six games.
The Jets beat the Devils the last time they met - a 3-0 score back on Oct. 13 - but Noel expects to see a different team tonight.
“They’ve been playing well,” he said. “They had a good road trip. They’re a team that doesn’t give you very much and so we’re used to that playing in the West. It will take all of us to get this thing done.”
Trouba back in line up
Jets rookie defenceman, Jacob Trouba, will make his return to the lineup tonight after missing the last 17 games with a neck strain. Trouba suffered the injury back on Oct. 18 when he tripped over the skate of a St. Louis Blues defender and went head first into the boards.
But with all that now behind him, the 19-year-old is eager to hit the ice and help with his team’s push to get back in the playoff race.
“It’s pretty exciting to get back in a game,” said Trouba following this morning’s pre-game skate.
“I’ve never been through something like this before so I just got to try and keep it simple. I’m sure it’s going to a take a bit to get used to playing again but I just got to play, feel it out there the first shift and I’m sure I’ll adjust pretty quickly.”
Noel said he looks forward to having his young blue liner back, but understands it may take a bit of time before he’s back to his old form.
“He’s been out a little while,” said Noel. “He’s just going to have to get comfortable in the game. The big thing for him at this point is to get settled and let the game come to him, don’t chase the game. We’ll monitor his minutes but I think he’s ready to go. He’ll be enthusiastic to play. We’re looking forward to having him back.”
Kane slump continues
There has been a lot of talk lately about the play of Jets star Evander Kane and his current 11-game streak without a goal. Kane said earlier this week he feels healthy and added it’s only a matter of time before things start going his way.
A matchup against the Devils might just be what the doctor ordered for the Jets' winger. Kane scored two of the Jets' three goals in that win over New Jersey earlier in the year.
Hall of fame watch
The Jets will be sure to pay extra attention to future Hall-of-Famer, Jaromir Jagr, whenever he’s on the ice tonight.
Jagr has been the driving force for the Devils and a key reason to why they’ve been winners in five of their last seven games. He leads his team with nine goals and nine assists for 18 points in 23 games this season, with four of his goals coming in the last five games.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said former Winnipegger Travis Zajac when asked what it was like to have a guy like Jagr in the locker room. “You watch how hard he works at 41 years old, on and off the ice, and I think it’s good for our team to kind of take some of those tips he’s been giving us and helping us out with. There’s a reason why he’s played this long and been as successful as he has been.”
In 1,414 career regular season games, the 21-year NHL veteran has recorded an incredible 1,706 points (690g, 1,016a). He’s added another 199 points (78g, 121a) in 202 career playoff games.
“Most games he’s been our best player,” said Devils’ bench boss Peter DeBoer. “Just his passion and love for the game. You don’t play at the age he’s at without it. You can talk about it but until you see it, he lives for hockey.”
Prediction: 3-2 Jets
It’s the most important road trip for the Winnipeg Jets this season. Tonight’s result, win or lose, could very well set the tone for the next six games. Noel and co. know how important two points in the standings are at this stage in the season and a loss to a team they’ve had success against in the past just won’t do. Winnipeg edge out a close win.