5 things to watch for as Jets battle Senators
The Winnipeg Jets wrap up a four-game home stand Wednesday night with a game against the Ottawa Senators.
The Jets have played some of their best hockey this past week, picking up five of a possible six points with wins against Dallas and L.A. and a shootout loss to St. Louis.
As for the Senators, they come to Winnipeg at the end of back-to-back games after falling to the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday.
With that, here are five things to consider heading into tonight's game.
The newest new guy
Forward Drew Stafford, who was acquired by the Jets in a blockbuster trade with Buffalo back on Feb. 11, watched a herd of reporters shuffle over to the stall next to his following practice Tuesday, and with that sight in mind he joked that he was no longer the new guy in town.
His remark referred to the arrival of Lee Stempniak, now the newest member of the Jets, who was picked up via a trade with the New York Rangers Sunday.
"It's a really good team that's playing really good hockey so I'm excited to come in and try and help out," said Stempniak. "They're building something here so I want to be a part of it."
Stempniak will play on the Jets' third line alongside Blake Wheeler and rookie Adam Lowry. The 32-year-old had nine goals and nine assists in 53 games with the Rangers this season.
What you see is what you get
Stempniak is the final piece of the puzzle for Kevin Cheveldayoff in a season that has seen the Jets' GM inject five new faces onto the roster, including defencemen Tyler Myers — also brought over in the trade with Buffalo — and Jay Harrison, as well as forward Jiri Tlusty.
With the Mar. 2 trade deadline now in the rear-view mirror, it's what-you-see-is-what-you-get for the Jets as they make a final push for the post-season.
"With the way we've been playing, I think we're really excited where our team is headed," said Wheeler.
"We're excited about the way that we're playing, we're excited about the new faces in our room, and we're hoping that can help take our group to the next level."
With only 18 games left on the schedule, every point in the standings comes at a premium.
Winnipeg is in the first wild card spot in the west, but with little wiggle room. Minnesota is just one point shy of Winnipeg with a game in hand, and Los Angeles, which also has a game in hand, is back only four.
The Jets have played some of their best hockey the last two games, going toe-to-toe against two hard-hitting clubs in the Kings and Blues.
But as difficult as those two games were, Jets head coach Paul Maurice believes the current task at hand may just be the biggest.
"They're playing with all the desperation that those teams play with when the games get under 20 and they're still on the outside looking in."
The Senators have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL of late, going 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. The recent success has put Ottawa back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, just six points back of the final wild card spot.
The Jets know they can't take this one lightly. Earning a win tonight will go a long way both mentally and in the standings as they get set to hit the road for the next four games.
Hot hand of Hammond
One of the biggest reasons for the Senators' resurgence has been the play of goalie Andrew Hammond.
Hammond, 27, was recalled from the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliate, after regulars Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner both went down with injuries. What was supposed to be a short-term solution has turned out to be a blessing.
In six starts with the Senators, Hammond is 5-0-1, posting an incredible 1.40 goals against average and a .955 save percentage.
Jets rookie Adam Lowry, who spent last season with the St. John's IceCaps in the AHL, was able to offer up a bit of a scouting report on Hammond after practice Tuesday.
"He played pretty well against us [in St. John's]," said Lowry. "He made some big saves for them when he needed them to. It's a nice story."
5 straight for Hutchinson
You can officially throw out that goalie rotation the Jets have been utilizing for the better part of the last three months. Michael Hutchinson will get his fifth straight start for the Jets tonight and sixth in the last seven.
Maurice credits the Jets' schedule, specifically the time between games, for the decision to ride one goaltender. It also helps that Hutchinson has been on the winning side of games, too.
Hutchinson is 5-0-3 in his last eight starts, and although his save percentage hasn't been the greatest during that stretch, he's continued to make timely saves, giving the Jets a chance to win in every game.
In 32 games this season, Hutchinson boasts a 19-7-5 record with a 2.29 goals against average and .919 save percentage.