The Winnipeg Jets are coming off of their best week of the season, earning five of six possible points. There will be some well earned disappointment from Saturday’s shootout loss against Montreal, given the Jets held a two goal lead early in the second period.
But Winnipeg is now the third team in the Central Division with a record above .500, joining the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars.
The Jets will play arguably their toughest week of the season, playing two of the early season darlings in the New York Rangers and the Vegas Golden Knights.
Here’s a look at their opponents and their current records and points percentage:
New York Rangers, 6-2-0, .750
Vegas Golden Knights, 8-0-1, .944
Arizona Coyotes, 3-4-0, .329
Winnipeg will host the Rangers tonight, before heading on the road to play in Vegas Thursday and in Arizona on Saturday.
Let’s get to the matchups.
New York Rangers’ top guns are cookin’
Blake Wheeler makes his return to Winnipeg tonight, and if you’re looking for more on that topic, you can find it here.
But when it comes to tonight’s actual hockey game, you can’t ignore the Rangers’ three world class players at three different positions: Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, and Igor Shesterkin.
Artemi Panarin is flying out of the gate, and though he had an underwhelming playoff performance last year and endured some criticism, he’s still crazy talented. His 12 points through 8 games suggests that much.
When it comes to Fox, he’s one of the best defensemen in the game, and is leading all defensemen in power play points, with 8. Panarin has 7. If the Jets are going to leave this game with more than just a celebration of Blake Wheeler, they’re going to have to either limit the penalties they take, or perform valiantly on the penalty kill.
The Rangers are clipping along at 34.5% rate so far, second in the league.
Interestingly, this is one of the few goaltending matchups where it isn’t automatically advantage Jets and Hellebuyck. Igor Shesterkin is one of the best in the league, yet both ‘tenders have identical .900 save percentages despite posting 4-2-0 records.
Can the Jets’ top guns crack open Vegas’ stingy defence?
The Jets already played Vegas earlier this season, and had a real chance at beating the league’s best team. Alex Iafallo scored early in the third period to make it 3-3, before a subsequent Iafallo slashing penalty put Vegas on the power play and up 4-3 for good, before finishing the game off at 5-3.
Vegas’ secret is a suffocating defensive game and two capable goaltenders that can win games on any night. They’re defending extremely well, only allowing 2.22 goals per game, good for third in the league. And of course Jack Eichel and Mark Stone are capable of scoring multiple ways at any time in the game.
For Winnipeg, they’re going to need their top guns to get going again. Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor had excellent starts, but have cooled off of late, scoring three points each in their last five games.
I don’t care how it goes in – power play, even strength, four on four – whatever, a team can only win without their top guns performing so often.
Those guys are Scheifele and Connor, and they’ll need them tonight, especially against a team as deep as Vegas.
Winnipeg needs two points against Arizona
Given that the Jets play New York (3rd in the league) and Vegas (1st), they’re going to need two points against the Coyotes, or this week could completely undo last week’s efficiency.
Who knows what the outcome of those two games will be.
The Coyotes are young and skilled, but are playing surprisingly low event hockey under head coach Andre Tourigny. They’re not scoring a lot (23rd in the league), but are also defending well, allowing the 11th least goals against per game.
It’s their power play that’s boosting them along, as it’s clicking at a 26.7% rate, good for 6th in the league.
Their penalty kill is where the Jets will need to strike though, as they’re struggling a man down and have the 5th worst penalty kill thus far.
That being said, the Jets have the 6th worst.
Winnipeg is also struggling mightily on the power play, which is operating at a 12.9% efficiency rate. Surprisingly, there are eight teams worse than that.
It appears that this game could be won at even strength for Winnipeg, where they are superior in all facets. Arizona’s top line of Clayton Keller, Barret Hayton, and Nick Schmaltz is very good, but the Winnipeg’s is better. And throughout the lineup, the Jets have clear advantages, especially in the bottom six.
Talent-wise, the Jets should absolutely win this game. But when a team is playing with the togetherness that Arizona is, they can be tough to crack open for goals.
Patience will be the key for the Jets. If they can put together some puck possession, avoid forcing offence, and allow their talent to take over, it should be two points for Winnipeg.