5 things to watch for as Jets battle Canucks
The Winnipeg Jets wrap up a four-game home stand with a tilt against the Vancouver Canucks this afternoon at MTS Centre. The Jets (39-26-12) will look to bounce back from consecutive losses to Chicago and New York this week, both of which were decided by goals late in the third period.
As for the Canucks (45-28-5), they'll look to end a four-game road trip on a high note after falling 3-1 to Chicago on Thursday after wins against Nashville and St. Louis earlier in the week.
With that, here are five things to consider heading in to today's game.
Outside, looking in
You don't have to be active in the race to fall behind. The Jets learned that lesson this week as they now see themselves on the outside of the playoff line looking in, sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference following a few days off from game action.
A win by Los Angeles over Edmonton on Thursday now has The Kings ahead of the Jets and in to the final wild card spot in the west. The Jets have the same amount of points in the standings, in the same number of games, but L.A. holds the tiebreaker, determined by the number of regulation and overtime wins.
"Everyday we look at the standings and you follow the games every single night," said Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec following practice Friday. "Every game is huge right now."
The Canucks are five points up on the Jets but Winnipeg has a game in hand. A win tonight will put them in striking distance but a loss will make it next to impossible to catch up.
The Jets have dropped both games against Vancouver this season, including a 5-2 loss in B.C. last Tuesday.
If you're the kind of person that likes to make excuses, at least when you're debating with your friends that root for the Canucks, then consider this: both losses have come in the second of back-to-back games for the Jets.
As juicy as that may be, the Jets know they're in for another tough game, even with the three-day rest in between.
"They're playing well right now and it's going to be a tough challenge," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler. "They are a team that thrives on confidence and they've been winning some games; some tough games so we know that they're going to be feeling good themselves and we just got to try make it a long game for them."
No Buff, no problem
He's used to lowering the boom on opposing players, but it was Jets' defenceman Dustin Byfuglien who took one on the chin this week. The NHL decided to suspend him for four games after a vicious cross-check on Rangers' forward J.T. Miller in the loss on Tuesday.
The Jets will surely miss Byfuglien — he'll return for the final game of the regular season when the Jets take on the Calgary Flames Apr. 11. But the squad knows life must go on without him.
Jets coach Paul Maurice was quick to defend Byfuglien, knowing his defenceman had zero intent to injure but understands why the league decided a suspension was necessary.
"At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own actions and it was a cross-check, and it was a dangerous one," said Maurice.
With Byfuglien out, Jay Harrison draws back in to the lineup and will play on the third pairing with Adam Pardy.
The Jets know stopping the Canucks starts with shutting down their two biggest weapons: the Sedin twins.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin anchor the Canucks' offence. Daniel is at the top with 68 points while Henrik isn't far behind with 66. The duo is particularly difficult to handle on the power play.
Tyler Myers and Toby Enstrom will be tasked with shutting down the Canucks' top line, and although they understand how dangerous the two can be, they say it's more about playing their own game if they want to be successful.
"When we're on our game we don't have to try to force as much," said Myers. "We're a team that's very hard on the puck and we're at our best when we're playing like that. We're going to have to come out with some high intensity right from the start."
On the mend
Bryan Little will be in just his second game back since returning from an 11-game absence with a lower-body injury. The Jets' No. 1 centre had a solid game against the Rangers on Tuesday in his first game back, but will be leaned on even more tonight.
With just five games left on the schedule, Winnipeg is in desperation mode, and it will be the top two lines that will be heavily relied on to produce the offence. Little liked the way he played in his return, but knows he must improve with every game.
The same goes for Mathieu Perreault, who also returned from injury earlier this week. He's offered a major boost to the lineup but the Jets hope now it will translate in to goals.