Who: Winnipeg Jets
Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH
Know thine enemy: As the Jets have been known to do over the last few years, they are treading water. At 10-9-3, they’re getting surprisingly good defense and goaltending, but goals have been very difficult to come by. They’re averaging just 1.96 goals per game.
Leading the way offensively is the “big three” of Blake Wheeler (team-best eight goals and 14 points), Andrew Ladd (13 points) and Bryan Little (12 points). Those three are the only Jets with five or more goals and they haven’t gotten much (two goals, six points in 14 games) from the injured and embattled Evander Kane.
Still, they’ve been in most games thanks to the surprising efforts of their goaltending. Ondrej Pavelec has had his fair share of critics over the years, but it’s hard to question his play so far. He’s made 17 starts with a 7-8-2 record, but his 2.29 goals against average and .917 save percentage have been solid. Backup Michael Hutchison has been quality in his five starts as well, going for a 1.38 GAA and .948 save percentage. It’s unclear who will be in net tonight, but the Jackets will have their hands full trying to get one into the twine.
About the Blue Jackets: It’s an everyday struggle for the Blue Jackets at this point and that doesn’t seem to be improving. They’re coming into this with a three-game losing streak (0-2-1), having allowed a dozen goals in that span.
The good news is that Mark Letestu and Brandon Dubinsky both skated yesterday, though it’s unclear if they’ll suit up tonight. They’re still down a trio of defensemen – Ryan Murray, Cody Goloubef and Fedor Tyutin – among others, so they’ll continue to play shorthanded.
By now, you know the story: their trademark intensity has been non-existent and things would be ugly if not for the efforts of Ryan Johansen (23 points in 20 games), Nick Foligno (20 points in 19 games) and Scott Hartnell (14 points in 20 games). The offense is slumping at a time when a banged up defense could use some help.
Then again, it would help if the Jackets were getting the best out of starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. In a dozen starts this year, he’s just 5-6-1 with a 2.95 goals against average and .911 save percentage; way down from his averages of the last two seasons. If the Jackets are going to dig out of the hole they’ve created, Bobrovsky is going to be the catalyst.
The part where I predict things: A pair of slumping teams looking to get things going in the right direction, they should both come out with a spur in their rear. The Blue Jackets are off until Friday, so they’ll have a chance to get a little healthier should Letestu and Dubinsky not be available tonight. The Jets, meanwhile, will be back on the road tomorrow in Buffalo and will want to carry some momentum with them into that meeting.
If nothing has gotten the Jackets to bring back that intensity by now, I doubt they’ll find it in time to salvage their season. Look for a fired up Jets team to get one early and ride their surprising goaltending to the finish line with a late push by the Jackets that comes up short.
Score: 2-1 Jets
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