5 things to watch for as Jets face off against Caps
'The Winnipeg Jets look to make it four straight wins as they welcome the Washington Capitals to town Saturday night in the final tilt of a three-game homestand at MTS Centre. The Jets have found a nice groove this past week, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks and most recently the St. Louis Blues, 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday.
The Capitals look to stay perfect as they come to Winnipeg on the end of a three-game road trip with victories already over the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild.
With that, here are five things to consider heading in to Saturday night’s game.
The Jets snapped a seven-game winless streak against the Blues on Thursday and they’ll hope to do the same against another opponent in a Capitals team they haven’t had much success against in recent history. Winnipeg has dropped the last seven games against Washington, posting a record of 0-6-1.
Unlike the Blues, a team the Jets seem to always have close games against, the Capitals have dominated the Jets on the scoreboard, outscoring Winnipeg 32-11 during that seven-game slide. The last time Winnipeg defeated Washington was during the lockout season in 2013, edging the Caps 4-2 in late January of that year.
But even though there’s a big discrepancy on the scoreboard, Jets coach Paul Maurice said he feels the two teams are very similar in the way they play.
“Defensively they’re strong. They’ve got some big men on the back end,” he said following the morning game skate. “They’ve got a lot of size on their wings and the systems that they play now are hard. They’re very similar to what we do.”
It’s the second and final meeting between these two clubs this season. The Capitals walked away with the victory in the first game, beating the Jets 5-1 at Verizon Centre in Washington back on Feb. 19.
The big story in that game was the Jets lack of discipline. The Capitals took advantage of six trips to the power play, converting on three of them. After that game Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd called the penalties a momentum killer and something the team needed to clean up.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise then that the talk in the Jets dressing room Saturday was focused on the team’s penalty kill, or more specifically, the need to stay out of the box all together. The Capitals are tied with Detroit for top power play in the NHL, connecting on 25.2 per cent of their chances.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” said Jets forward Michael Frolik, who plays on the team’s top PK unit. “We know they have a great power play so we need to take less penalties for sure against them and make sure we play 5-on-5 with them.”
The Jets penalty kill has improved over the last couple of weeks, shutting out their opponents the last three games and allowing just three power-play goals against in the past 11.
'The Great 8'
A guy the Jets will pay extra attention to tonight is Capitals’ forward Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals (47) and points (73) and is arguably the league’s most dangerous threat around the net.
“The Great 8,” a common nickname of the six-feet-three-inch tall centre, is dangerous every time he steps on the ice, anchoring the Caps’ top-line alongside NHL assist leader Nicklas Backstrom.
Asked which one of his lines would best suit a shutdown role against Ovechkin and Co., Maurice said he’s still undecided but noted it could be a combination of the Jets two top lines.
“That’s a question that we’ll deal with and we may have to do it in the game,” said Maurice. “We’ve run [the] Lowry [line] at home against the more physical of the lines; [the] Scheifele [line] against the more speed component of the lines that we’ve played against. We’ll get both units out against [them] tonight.”
Riding the hot hand
How long can Ondrej Pavelec continue to impress between the pipes?
Pavelec has been in net for all three of the Jets wins this past week, stopping 105 of 109 shots for a 1.48 goals against average and an impressive .954 save percentage during that stretch.
He’ll once again get the nod tonight against a Caps team he hasn’t had much success against over his career, winning just nine times in 28 games with a goals against average of 3.01 and a .904 save percentage.
As well as Pavelec has played over the last three games, the top-end talent on Washington could prove to be his biggest test. A win would certainly make a case for him to regain his No. 1 status, something he’s shared with Michael Hutchinson this season. A loss, and the job could be handed back to his partner, as the Jets head out on the road for back-to-back games against Edmonton and Vancouver.
In the other crease
There’s certainly no debate in Washington who the No.1 guy is in net. Braden Holtby leads the NHL in most games played with 63, in starts with 62 and in minutes played. He’s tied for second in shutouts with eight and third in wins with 35.
Holtby will get the call tonight and will look to build on his impressive numbers against Winnipeg. In nine career games against the Jets, Holtby boasts a record of 7-2-0 with a 2.19 goals against average and a .931 save percentage.