5 things to watch as Jets prepare for Panthers
The Winnipeg Jets return home after a three-game road trip to take on the Florida Panthers Tuesday night at MTS Centre.
The Jets (21-14-8) earned three of a possible six points on the trip, losing to the Arizona Coyotes before earning points from a win over the Los Angeles Kings and a shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks in back-to-back games over the weekend.
As for the Panthers (20-11-9), they’re putting together quite a road trip themselves with Winnipeg being the final stop on a six-game trip. Florida has been almost perfect, winning four of their last five including three straight victories.
With that, here are 5 things to consider heading in to tonight’s game:
After a long stretch with a depleted blue line, the Jets have started to get some of their missing pieces back on defence.
Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart and Toby Enstrom have all returned from injury, giving the Jets more stability in their back end. All have shown signs of rust, but have steadily improved with each passing game.
Bogosian has goals in each of his last two games while Enstrom and Stuart have logged notable minutes, particularly on special teams.
“We survived a very daunting task,” said Jets' head coach Paul Maurice about the team’s injuries this season, adding “and we’re a pretty competitive team.”
Evander Kane has also returned to the lineup, giving the Jets a boost to their offence after missing five games with a lower body injury. He scored in Sunday’s shootout loss to the Ducks, registering his seventh goal of the year.
He also scored in the shootout.
“We missed him especially,” Maurice told reporters Sunday. “We talked about our defence being gone but (Kane) was a real critical piece that we’ve been missing.”
New look Panthers
Last season the Panthers were one of the laughing stocks of the NHL, finishing the season second-last in the league with a record of 29-45-8.
But this isn’t your last season's Panthers.
Florida has benefited from the maturity of their younger core along with a number of veterans stepping up and the result has been a team well in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Leading the way for the Panthers has been forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who has 10 points in his last 10 games — five of those have come in the past three tilts.
Florida’s first line of Jussi Jokinen, Nick Bjugstad and Jimmy Hayes has also been a force and will be leaned upon to generate offence against the Jets.
“I’m really, really impressed with how consistent they are with their game,” said Maurice. “They've got good players on each line.”
Discipline continues to be an issue for the Jets and it’s starting to cost them on the score sheet.
Winnipeg has allowed eight power play goals in their last four games, going 15-for-23 on the penalty kill during that stretch.
Winnipeg is one of the most penalized teams in the entire league, averaging more than 14 minutes of penalties per game. The Jets have given their opponents at least five power play opportunities in five of their last six games.
Winnipeg may be in luck in this one, however, as the Panthers rank second last on the PP, converting just 13.3 per cent of their opportunities.
Monday marked the one-year anniversary for Maurice as head coach of the Jets.
He took over from then-coach Claude Noel and earned his first win with Winnipeg the next day, beating the Coyotes by a score of 5-1.
Fast-forward to today and Maurice is just one victory away from 500 career regular season wins in the NHL. He is in his 17th season as head coach in the NHL, a career that has included stops in Hartford, Carolina, Toronto, and now with Winnipeg.
If Maurice can earn a win tonight he’ll be the just the 19th coach in NHL history to hit the 500 club.
There has been a lot of talk this season surrounding 18-year-old Connor McDavid, a forward for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters and the projected first-overall pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
A lot of pressure comes with being picked No.1, and it’s a feeling Panthers' D-man Arron Ekblad knows well. The 18-year-old rookie garnered a lot of attention heading into last summer’s draft before being chosen first overall by the Panthers.
So far he’s been able to live up to that hype through 40 games. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound defenceman is currently second on the team in points with 24 and has four points in his last five games, while averaging more than 22 minutes of ice time.
Ekblad will play alongside Brian Campbell on the team’s top pairing and will spend most of his time defending the Jets top line of Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler.