The Winnipeg Jets enter Thursday’s road matchup against the Red Wings back at .500, after posting their first back-to-back wins of the season.
Tonight represents a chance to make it three in a row.
The puck will drop at 6:00pm CT.
A major storyline to follow will be the health of Alex DeBrincat. He missed Wednesday’s practice with sickness, and while I’d imagine he’d hate to miss a game given his torrid start to the season, sometimes the body just says no.
So far, it appears likely he’ll suit up.
The Wings have come out the gate flying, with a 5-1-1 record while averaging just under five goals per game and allowing less than three.
With or without DeBrincat, though, the Red Wings are constructed somewhat similarly to the Jets, with a deep forward group, a few stars, and a veteran blueline.
Obviously, few teams can match Hellebuyck between the pipes, and though James Reimer has only let in two goals in his two starts this season, it’s advantage Winnipeg in that regard.
These are the projected Jets lines:
Let’s dig in.
Head-to-head matchup of Scheifele vs. Larkin will be critical
Dylan Larkin and Mark Scheifele have produced similar output over the past two years: roughly 80 points as their team’s top line center, with Scheifele scoring more goals.
But their style and impact couldn’t be more different.
Scheifele is the cerebral, heady playmaker who also has a great shot. He can weave through the neutral zone before finding a pass, and is dangerous both off the cycle and on the rush.
Larkin, meanwhile, is a player who combines athleticism, determination, and good but not amazing skills to be an effective NHL center. His skating and mobility allow him to have a major impact in all three zones, as he can track down low defensively and just as easily join his wingers on the rush. He doesn’t produce offense from having an amazing shot or showing incredible skill, he’s just very good at a lot of things.
That being said, he’s humming along this season, enjoying a star winger by his side for the first time in his nine year NHL career. He has 4 goals and 14 points in 7 games so far.
Which is why this head to head matchup is so critical.
Scheifele’s defensive indifference is well documented, though I have noticed a more determined player this season compared to years past. But can he and Kyle Connor win the battle against Larkin and DeBrincat?
It seems that Scheifele will be trying to outscore Larkin’s line, rather shut them down, as that’s not really his forte. That’s why Detroit will always love the two way, Michigan-born Larkin as their top center, especially if he’s producing this level of offense.
He’ll still give the full three zone effort, and while his two points-per-game pace is going to drop over time, that level of offense gives Detroit a look at the top of their lineup that they haven’t had since Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
A two-way stud producing offense.
If Scheifele and company stay even at 5-on-5 against Larkin’s gang, I’d call it a win.
That leaves the rest of the Jets forwards to outproduce the Red Wings, and I’d take the Jets’ depth over the Red Wings’ any day.
When will Winnipeg’s special teams pick up?
A simple way to gauge a team’s effectiveness on special teams is to add your power play and penalty kill percentages together and see if it’s above or below 100.
Well, when you do that with the Jets, their 16.7% power play and 72% penalty kill add up to 88.2. My quick-scan math of the league showed only five teams with a lower special teams sum.
Detroit, meanwhile, has a blistering 41.4% power play and an 82.1% penalty kill rate which results in a rather tidy 123.5. That’s the second best power play in the league alongside the 13th best penalty kill.
There are two ways to interpret that: either Winnipeg needs to stay out of the box, or we need to see improvement. The Jets’ penalty kill was 7th in the league last year, and there are few things more confidence inducing than a strong penalty kill.
Penalties are inevitable, and can produce massive swings in momentum. The Jets are on the road tonight, and a hard working, effective penalty kill can hush and discourage an excited building full of anticipation.
It’s early still, and there’s plenty of room for those numbers to improve.
But given how vicious Detroit’s top line and special teams have been, the Jets will need to make sure they don’t lose both of those battles, or they’ll need Connor Hellebuyck to be otherworldly.