Manitoba·Blog

5 things to watch for as Jets battle Blues

The Winnipeg Jets wrap up a three-game home stand when they welcome the St. Louis Blues to MTS Centre Sunday afternoon. The Jets (10-8-3) are coming off a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night after picking up a win over New Jersey earlier in the week.

The Winnipeg Jets wrap up a three-game home stand when they welcome the St. Louis Blues to MTS Centre Sunday afternoon. The Jets (10-8-3) are coming off a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night after picking up a win over New Jersey earlier in the week. 

The Blues (13-6-1) will wrap up their three-game swing through Canada with a stop in Winnipeg, a stretch that includes a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Thursday and, most recently, a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators less than 24 hours ago.

With that, here are 5 things to consider heading in to Sunday’s game.

Feeling the blues

It’s the first of five games this season between the Jets and Blues. In five games against the Blues last year, the Jets won just once, posting a season series record of 1-3-1 against their Central Division rival. Winnipeg’s lone win came at home in an exciting 4-3 shootout victory.

“They’re deep at all their positions,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice following practice Saturday. “They can roll that bench and play a very consistent game.”

Maurice added: “It’s a great test. A real good test for us to be able to keep playing our game.”

The Blues are a physical team that likes to control all ends of the ice. With the Jets committed to a tougher style of play this season, expect this one to be a gritty affair, with puck battles in all areas of the ice.

Rolling 12

Fatigue became the big story in Thursday’s loss to Detroit, particularly in the third period where the Jets surrendered two goals late to fall 4-3 to the Red Wings.

With that rough-and-tumble style of play the Jets have executed this season, it was only a matter of time before the wear and tear caught up.

But the bigger issue has become the use - or perhaps misuse - of the forwards, particularly the team’s fourth line.

Detroit rolled all 12 forwards against the Jets, with the fourth line playing over 10 minutes each. The Jets fourth unit – made up of Jim Slater, Matt Halischuk and Chris Thorburn these days – played together for fewer than three.

St. Louis is another team with strong forward depth. It’s been two days since the Jets last game. It will be interesting to see whether Maurice goes back to rolling mostly nine, instead of all 12.

The Little things

Last week, the focus was all on Mathieu Perreault and the search for his first goal of the season. That plot line, at least for the moment, has been put on hold as Perreault has found the back of the net in each of the last two games.

The microscope now shifts over to Bryan Little.

Little was one of the Jets’ hottest scorers to start the year, scoring all five of his goals in the first eight games. He’s been goalless in 13 games since.

Maurice said this week that he doesn’t evaluate Little by how many goals he scores, instead turning his focus on how well he’s played in the defensive zone.

Sure, Little should be credited for playing against opponent’s best players every night, but for a team that’s hurting to score goals, a drop in production from one of your top-end players will be a cause for concern if it continues.

Little had two goals and one assist in five games against the Blues last season.

Terror-senko

He’s been one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers this season, and one of its biggest surprises.

Vladimir Tarasenko leads the St. Louis Blues with 12 goals and 23 points through 20 games this year. He has terrorized opposing defenders and goalies with his silky smooth hands, evident by a number of highlight-reel goals this season.

After a relatively slow start to the year – he still scored five points in his first seven games – Tarasenko has been borderline unstoppable. In his last 13 games with the Blues he has 11 goals and 18 points.

Tarasenko plays alongside Jaden Swartz and Jori Lehtera, known as the “STL” line. Together they’ve combined for 37 points in their last 10 games.

If there’s a line to shut down in this game, this is it.

Manitoba made

They may be on the visitor’s bench, but for two Blues forwards a trip to Winnipeg means a trip back home.

Alexander Steen and Ryan Reaves were both born in Winnipeg and both have fathers that played professional sports in the River City.

Thomas Steen, now a city councillor for the Winnipeg ward of Elmwood-East Kildonan, was drafted by the original Winnipeg Jets and played 14 seasons with the club.

Willard Reaves, Ryan’s father, played five seasons as running back with the Blue Bombers.

Steen has four goals and 8 points in 20 games this season playing wing on the Blues’ top line. Reaves has two goals and leads the team in penalty minutes with 26. 

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