It hasn’t been the greatest start to the season for the Winnipeg Jets. Granted, it could be worse. Just look at the Philadelphia Flyers. Still, expectations were raised this season, as the fans are desperate for some playoff hockey, come springtime. As it stands, the Jets are in sixth place in the central division, with a 4-5-1 as they set out on a four game road trip against divisional opponents.
Perhaps getting away from the Manitoba capital is a good thing for the Jets at this moment. With some fans calling for the dismissal of head coach Claude Noel, plus criticism levelled at high-priced talent such as Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian and Ondrej Pavelec, a road trip might just refocus the team, and concentrate on the task at hand.
There is no doubt that the honeymoon is definitely over in Winnipeg. Fans want and demand positive results. Instead the Jets produced inconsistency and question marks following a six-game home stand, in which the Jets went 2-3-1 during that span. The MTS Centre has been noticeably quieter this year than in previous years. (Don’t get me wrong, the building can still rock with the best of them, but now the fans are waiting for something to happen, before they make noise.) More disturbingly is that there have been empty seats inside the Phone Booth. True North Entertainment have even gone to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to advertise that tickets are available to the general public on gameday. That was not happening during the previous two seasons, when the franchise arrived from Atlanta.
Now comes this road swing, where the Jets have had more failures than success in their brief history. Since moving to Winnipeg, the Jets have gone 26-38-7 away from the friendly confines of the MTS Centre. For the record, the Jets are 39-27-7 on home ice since 2011. One positive trend is that the Jets were a better road team last year, going 11-11-2 in the shortened 2012-13 season. It’s too early to call this a critical stretch, but the Jets cannot afford to fall too far behind in the standings. With that in mind, here’s a look at each game on this trip.
Thursday October 24, Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville
These two teams met on October 20 at the MTS Centre, where the Predators came away with a 3-1 victory. Nashville may not have the most talent in the NHL, but they do have a system, and execute it with precision. The Predators are a well-coached, disciplined team that is very difficult to play against. Shea Weber and Seth Jones are an awesome defensive tandem that can shut down most top lines in the league. The Jets are most comfortable playing a run-and-gun style that leaves them vulnerable to lapses on the defensive end. That’s where Nashville is most dangerous, as they will play a patient game and wait for the opposition to make mistakes. The Jets will need to capitalize on their scoring chances, plus be smarter at both ends of the ice.
Saturday October 26, Winnipeg Jets vs. Dallas
Back on October 11, the Stars came into the MTS Centre, and emerged with a 4-1 victory, thanks to a two goal, two assist performance by Tyler Seguin. Since then, the Stars have struggled, going 1-4 in their last five games. The Stars are hoping that the return of goalie Kari Lehtonen to the lineup will bolster the squad. Lehtonen suffered a lower-body injury against the Jets and has not played since. It is expected that the Finnish goalie will start on Thursday against Calgary. As of this writing, the Stars are in last place in the division, three points behind the Jets. However, Dallas will go into this game with some confidence because they did defeat the Jets, two weeks earlier. The Jets would like to extract some revenge, as well as create a little bit of distance, early in the season.
Sunday October 27, Winnipeg Jets vs. Colorado
Who would have imagined that the Colorado Avalanche would have the best record in the NHL at this time? The Avalanche have been the story in this early part of the season, as they sit atop of the Central Division with an 8-1 record. Credit has to be given to new head coach Patrick Roy for guiding his young troops in the right direction. Make no mistake about it, these kids such as Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon, who idolized Roy and current Avs general manager Joe Sakic in their youth, will go through a wall for them on the ice. At some point, the Avalanche will come crashing down to Earth. No one expects them to keep up this torrid pace. But this will be a tough game for the Jets. They will be playing the night before in Dallas, and their record in the second half in back-to-backs is horrendous, going 4-16-1 since 2011. The Jets should start Al Montoya in one of these two games. When Pavelec started both games of the back-to-back last season, the Jets went 2-5 in the second game with a 4.11 goals against average, with Pavelec’s save percentage being a woeful .882. Pavelec’s career record in the second game when starting on consecutive nights is a nightmarish 3-15 with a 4.11 goals against average and a .870 save percentage. Claude Noel better get the message that Montoya needs a start in one of these two games.
Tuesday October 29, Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis
The one team the Jets might have the psychological advantage against on this road trip could be the Blues. In their only meeting this season, the Jets overcame a 3-1 third period deficit, to defeat the Blues 4-3 in a shootout. Still, this will be a difficult test for the Jets. The Blues are still considered top contenders for the Stanley Cup, and they weren’t too happy after the October 18 battle, inside the MTS Centre. The last game of a road trip is sometimes one of the hardest games to play, as the team is tired of travelling, and just wants to get home and sleep in their own beds. Still, the Jets better be prepared for a battle. The Blues will come out ornery as they will be the ones looking for revenge. This is a big, tough team that takes no prisoners. If the Jets aren’t up to the challenge, they’ll come home licking their wounds in more ways than one.
*Special thanks to arcticicehockey.com for the Pavelec stats.*
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