Manitoba·Blog

5 things to watch for as the Winnipeg Jets take on the L.A. Kings

After a two-day break from game action the Winnipeg, Jets are back at it Sunday afternoon, taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings.

After 8-game winning streak, Kings come to Winnipeg following back-to-back losses

Michael Hutchinson, 24, has seen his play regress since the start of the season when he was atop the league in goals against average and save percentage, but he’s sill managed to produce. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

After a two-day break from game action the Winnipeg, Jets are back at it Sunday afternoon, taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s the third game in a four-game home stand for the Jets (31-20-12), a stretch that ends with a game against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

The Kings (29-20-12) come to Winnipeg as owners of back-to-back losses after winning eight straight. They’ll look to bounce back following a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

With that, here are five things to consider heading into today’s game:

Playoff attitude

It was one of the most exciting games the Jets have played all season. The 2-1 shootout loss to the Blues Thursday gave Jets fans a tiny glimpse of what postseason hockey could look like come spring.

It was a physical game with both teams fighting for every inch including a number of confrontations even after the whistle had blown.

With the Kings leading the league in hits and the Jets not far behind at fifth place, expect this one to be another hard-hitting affair. Add to that the fact these two teams are within points of each other in the standings, fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference and there’s surely some hate to be tossed around.

Just how badly do the Jets want to make the playoffs? Here’s what captain Andrew Ladd had to say about the Jets' often talked about draft-and-develop model to success.

“I’m 29 so I could care less about the draft-and-develop model. I want to win right now,” said Ladd. “I still feel like we have the group here, a core to do that.”

With 19 games left on the schedule, expect that must-win attitude to be on full display, making for more exciting games down the stretch.

Getting the points

It was a successful February for the Jets. In 12 games, Winnipeg finished the month with a record of 5-3-4.

The Jets had a slow start to the month, losing their first three games but have settled in nicely since and now find themselves on a decent roll, including points in their last six games at home.

If the Jets can win or lose in overtime or a shootout today, it would mark their longest point streak at home since their relocation from Atlanta for the 2011-12 season. The last time the Jets were this successful at home was during the 2012-13 season when they went 5-0-1 during a stretch of games from Apr. 6-20.

Special teams

A big part of the Jets' recent success has been the improvement of specials teams.

Both the power play and penalty kill has seen an improvement of late, particularly on the power play. The Jets finished with a 25 per cent success rate in February and have scored three goals on the man advantage in their last three games.

The penalty kill continues to be a work in progress, but appears to be back on track.

The Jets are a perfect nine-for-nine in their last three games, shutting down some of the league’s higher-end power plays in St. Louis, Dallas and Toronto.

The last time the Jets played the Kings – a 5-4 shootout victory for the Jets back on Jan. 10 – special teams played a key role. Winnipeg put the Kings on the PP six times in the game, with two of those ending with a goal against.

Wheeler is back

It looks like the Jets will get a major boost to their lineup with the return of forward Blake Wheeler.

Wheeler missed the last two games with an injury to his left knee after blocking a shot from Washington Capitals defenceman Matt Niskanen on Feb. 19. He played the next game against Toronto but when the pain persisted he knew he had to put his health first.

“It’s good to be back with the guys,” Wheeler told reporters after practice Saturday. “The hardest part is being away from the group and it was a good feeling being out there today.”

It was the first time Wheeler has missed a stretch of games in over three years. He said he feels good enough to compete at a high level and looks forward to contributing as the Jets continue their push to the postseason.

Wheeler, who playing on the Jets top line before his injury, will lineup on the Jets third line alongside Adam Lowry and Chris Thorburn, but will maintain his spot on the Jets first power play unit. Jets coach Paul Maurice said he’s liked the look of his top-six up front the last two games but noted that could be switched up at any time.

“When you got a guy coming back off an injury there’s always some doubt in to how it fits so we’ll start from there and there’s lots of room to move guys around,” he said.

Between the pipes

Michael Hutchinson is expected to get the nod between the pipes for the Jets. If he does, it will be his fourth straight start for in goal and fifth in the last six games.

The 24-year-old rookie has seen his play regress since the start of the season when he was atop the league in goals against average and save percentage, but he’s sill managed to produce. Hutchinson has earned points in his last seven starts, posting a record of 4-0-3 during that stretch.

“He’s handled it well,” said Maurice of Hutchinson’s increased workload.

Hutchinson is 18-7-5 on the year with a 2.29 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.

In the other net the Kings will go with Jonathan Quick. Quick has carried a majority of the workload for L.A. this season, posting a record of 25-16-10 with a 2.35 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. 

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