The Detroit Red Wings will battle the Central Division juggernaut Winnipeg Jets this evening (8:00 PM on FSD Plus/TSN3/97.1 FM).
Both teams are coming off losses, with the 37-17-and-9 Jets having most recently lost a 6-5 decision to the Nashville Predators. Winnipeg has split its past 4 games but won 5 of their past 7 games as well, and the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen set up tonight’s game as follows:
THE BIG MATCHUP
Connor Hellebuyck vs Jimmy Howard: Hellebuyck gave up six goals for the first time this season and just the second time in his career, Tuesday against Nashville. How he bounces back will go a long way to determining this one. The Wings scored five on him when the teams last met, in December.
FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
Staying patient: Adding Paul Stastny gives the Jets three legit scoring lines, but they’d do well to resist the temptation to show off all that firepower, as they may have been doing in the 6-5 loss to Nashville. Clamping down defensively and letting the offence happen has always been this team’s best approach.
The power play: The one time when the Jets can throw caution to the wind is with the man advantage, a unit which seems to have got even better with the addition of Stastny. The Jets have a huge edge in special teams and could win the game in this area, alone.
Score three: The Red Wings have one of the more anemic attacks in the game, ranking 27th with just under three goals per game. Unloading perennial 20-goal scorer Tomas Tatar at the trade deadline doesn’t help them. The No. 3-ranked Jets average well over three (3.35) per game, so the recipe for success seems simple enough.
Pretend it’s the Preds: The Jets were particularly amped up for the Nashville game, and it’d be easy to have a letdown for one against a non-playoff opponent from the East. The solution: convincing themselves they’re playing the Preds again. It’s mind over matter.
The opening 20: Winnipeg’s first-period dominance has been well-documented, and it’ll be part of the game plan again. Consider Detroit’s best period is the first, and jumping out to that early lead would be just the ticket to two points.
The Winnipeg Jets play the second game of a two-game homestand tonight against the Detroit Red Wings…The Jets lost 6-5 to the Nashville Predators in the first game of the homestand on Tuesday night…After tonight’s game, the Jets embark on a season-high six-game road trip, with five games against Metropolitan Division teams and the last game in Nashville.
Jets vs. Red Wings Notes
– The Jets and Red Wings split last season’s two games, with the Jets winning 5-3 in Detroit, and losing 3-4 (so) in Winnipeg.
– The Jets are 5-3-1 in their last nine games against the Wings.
– Winnipeg is a perfect 14-of-14 on the penalty kill in their last four games against Detroit, but are 1-for-13 (7.7%) on the power play in that same span.
Tonight marks the 12th time Winnipeg has played at home in its last 14 games…The Jets have the third-best home record in the NHL this season at 23-7-2…The Jets have scored a league-leading 123 goals at home this season, including 25 goals in their last five home games…Winnipeg is second in the NHL with a 29.2% power play percentage at home…The Jets enter tonight’s game having lost back-to-back home games for only the second time this season.
Facing the East
The Jets are 11-6-5 against the Eastern Conference this season, including a 6-3-2 record versus the Metropolitan Division…Winnipeg has won six of their last seven games against Eastern Conference teams…At 22 games, the Jets have played the fewest games against the Eastern Conference in the NHL this season…Winnipeg plays six consecutive games against the East…Of the 10 road games Winnipeg has left, eight are against an Eastern Conference opponent…Blake Wheeler leads the Jets with 30 points (8G, 22A) in 22 games against the Eastern Conference, which is sixth among Western Conference players.
The Winnipeg Jets have played four playoff games in their second incarnation in the NHL but their all-out battle against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday just may have been the next-best thing in learning how to prepare for a lengthy postseason run.
Armed with trade deadline acquisitions center Paul Stastny and defenseman Joe Morrow, the Jets played a spirited, emotional and physical game against the Central Division leaders, ultimately losing 6-5 despite having a pair of two-goal leads.
On the positive side, sometimes you have to lose in order to learn how to win. And the Predators provided a perfect example of never-say-die hockey, in an unfriendly barn no less.
“There’s no quit in them,” veteran forward Matt Hendricks told The Winnipeg Free Press. “They feel like they can score with anybody in the league and that’s kind of how it happened (Tuesday) night.
“It’s understanding those moments in the game, trying to control the puck in their zone instead of allowing them to skate through the neutral zone with speed and create in our end. Those shifts after goals are huge in not letting them gain any momentum.”
Indeed, twice the Jets scored and twice the Predators had replied before the PA announcer finished broadcasting the Jets goals.
The question is whether the Jets can keep up the intensity against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, a team that probably needs a 10-game winning streak to get back in the playoff conversation.
Detroit, which comes to town having won two of its past six games (2-3-1), is fifth in the Atlantic Division with 62 points, seven points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold down the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. There are three other teams ahead of Detroit trying to catch the Blue Jackets.