Go ahead Jets fans, take a deep breath. Let it all sink in.
A brand new NHL season is upon us. New expectations and fresh optimism is in the air. Hockey is finally back.
The Winnipeg Jets open the season Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. Here are five story lines worth following heading in to the game.
Heading in to training camp the Winnipeg Jets desperately wanted to put last year's season behind them.
In the lockout-shortened campaign the Jets finished 24-21-3, missing out on the playoffs by just four points.
And so far the Jets have yet to show any real improvement, finishing the preseason with a record of 1-4-3. The Jets finished their preseason tournament losing two straight to the Boston Bruins, including a 5-0 loss Friday night in rare contest at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon.
It's a good thing for the Jets that the Oilers didn’t fare much better, losing their preseason finale 4-0 to the Dallas Stars.
Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins called the game his team’s “one and only pass” and had this to say about the loss: “It’s good that it happened. It’s good to let our team know that our diapers do stink. That’s not going to happen again.”
You can be sure both teams will be looking to right their respective ships heading in to the first game of the regular season.
Centre of attention
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Winnipeg Jets right now is who will centre the second line alongside superstar Evander Kane.
The job appears to be up for grabs between veteran Olli Jokinen and rookie Mark Scheifele. Jokinen carried a bulk of the time on that line during the preseason but at practice on Sunday, it was Scheifele playing with Kane.
Neither has looked particularly great in the preseason but one has to think Jets head coach Claude Noel prefers experience at this point. But don’t be surprised if that changes in a few games.
When asked whether or not he saw any chemistry between Jokinen and Kane following a preseason game against Boston on Sept. 26, Noel replied, “If you’re going to ask me about chemistry, I don’t think there was a lot that existed there.”
From those comments one can only assume the leash is short for Jokinen.
The 2013-2014 edition of the Winnipeg Jets will have a fresh look to it Tuesday night.
For the first time since their relocation from Atlanta in 2011, the Jets will ice two rookies in their opening lineup.
Scheifele and 2012 first-round draft pick Jacob Trouba have both been given the nod to start the season with the Jets and will certainly draw a lot of attention from the Jets faithful.
Scheifele, 20, who spent almost all of last season with the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts, recorded one goal and an assist in six preseason games so far. Trouba, 19, picked up three assists and was a plus-2 in six.
Offseason acquisitions Devin Setoguchi (Minnesota) and Michael Frolik (Chicago) will also make their Jets debut.
Setoguchi, 26, will be leaned on for much-needed secondary scoring while Frolik, 25, and his strong defensive play should provide an added boost to the third line.
PAV-ing the way
There’s no doubt that Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was the standout player for Winnipeg last season.
The 26-year-old native of Kladno, Czech Republic was the key factor in many of the Jets 24 total wins last season.
In 21 starts last year, Pavelec finished with a 2.8 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. Certainly nothing to write home about and a major reason why he was snubbed from ESPN’s top-25 goalies heading in to this season.
But a five-year contract worth $19.5-million signed last summer keeps Pavelec in a Jets jersey through the 2015-2016 season and carries with it stern expectations. He’ll want to prove his worth early and regain the respect from his peers.
Why not start with a win against a high-powered offence like that of the Edmonton Oilers?
Setting a benchmark
It won’t just be the players who have something to prove Tuesday night.
Head coaches from both teams will also look to make an impression in their season debut.
Winnipeg's Noel is fresh off inking a contract extension that keeps him employed through the end of the 2014-2015 season. The additional one-year commitment comes as a small vote of confidence for Noel but a win to start the season against an injury-riddled Edmonton team will help ease the nerves of what has been a disappointing preseason.
Edmonton'd Eakins, will be making his NHL head coaching debut after spending the last four seasons with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
As one of the hottest coaching prospects in the off-season, Eakins will want to live up to his hype by earning his first win in front of the home crowd.
Prediction: 3-2 Winnipeg
As mentioned, both teams aren’t exactly in the place they want to be heading into the regular season. There are still many questions surrounding the Jets lineup but unlike Edmonton, they’re relatively healthy.
The Oilers lineup is absent of their top two centremen. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and Sam Gagner is out for two months with a broken jaw, the result of a collision with Vancouver forward Zach Kassian during a preseason game earlier this month.
The Jets have an edge in goal. Pavelec has been strong in both preseason starts. The jury is still out on Edmonton’s netminder Devan Dubynk as to whether he’s a viable starting goalie in this league.
With some rust still remaining for the Jets to shake off, the Oilers will keep this game close with Winnipeg squeaking out the win.