Archive for February, 2012

Jets make one trade (updated lineups)

- February 27th, 2012

As expected, it was a relatively quiet day on the trade front for the Winnipeg Jets.

However, the initial reaction is that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff got a pretty good return in the deal that sent D-man Johnny Oduya to the Chicago Blackhawks for second and third-round picks in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

The going rate was believed to be a second rounder, but Cheveldayoff found a way to get a third rounder thrown in as well.

The Blackhawks were interested for quite some time and ultimately decided they were okay trading the picks for the pending unrestricted free agent.

Found it interesting that Cheveldayoff’s lone deadline deal came together with a guy in Stan Bowman that he worked with and won a Stanley Cup with in Chicago.

Here’s what Cheveldayoff had to say when I asked him about what that was like.

“When you work on a deal like this with someone you’ve shared a lot of time with, you’re very candid, you’re very open and you lay things on the table,” said Cheveldayoff. “We had a lot of very blunt conversations with each other that ultimately led to a deal. He was extremely aggressive in this deal. We got to the price we wanted. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

Before the deal was made, the Jets put in a successful waiver claim on D-man Grant Clitsome, who joins the organization after putting up four goals and 14 points in 51 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

Picking up Clitsome allowed the Jets to hold out for a higher price tag for Oduya and leaves the Jets with eight healthy blue-liners on the active roster. We’re a little surprised the Jets didn’t move Randy Jones as well, but he’s played well and the Jets weren’t going to give him away either.

Now that the deadline has passed, the Jets turn their attention back to the playoff chase as they host the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at MTS Centre.

Should be interesting to see how the Jets play, knowing what they’ll have in the dressing room going forward during the final 18 games.

Ondrej Pavelec gets the call in goal for the Jets, while Devan Dubnyk is between the pipes for the Oilers, not former Jet Nikolai Khabibulin – who has been scratched.

Jets D-man Zach Bogosian took the pre-game warm-up but will be scratched for a seventh consecutive game with an upper-body injury.

Here’s how both teams will start:

Winnipeg Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton-Nik Antropov-Antti Miettinen

Defence pairings

Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byguflien
Mark Stuart-Ron Hainsey
Mark Flood-Randy Jones

Goalies
Ondrej Pavelec (Chris Mason)

Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Ales Hemsky
Ryan Smyth-Sam Gagner-Jordan Eberle
Ryan Jones-Shawn Horcoff-Ben Eager
Lennart Petrell-Eric Belanger-Darcy Hordichuk

Defence pairings
Ladislav Smid-Jeff Petry
Ryan Whitney-Corey Potter
Cam Barker-Andy Sutton

Goalies
Devan Dubnyk (Yann Danis)

What will Chevy do?

- February 27th, 2012

Chances are pretty good that it’s going to be a quiet day on the trade front at MTS Centre, which is a tad surprising considering two Canadian teams are in town.

The Winnipeg Jets host the Edmonton Oilers this evening, but folks around the hockey world are waiting anxiously to see if any big moves are going to be made around the league.

The NHL trade deadline is 2 p.m. CT on Monday and there have been a grand total of zero trades so far this morning as we approach 9 a.m.

If you missed it, here’s my Jets trade deadline primer and a look at who might get called up from St. John’s IceCaps should a spot or two open up on the roster:

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/02/27/jets-short-on-commodities

There’s no way of telling what the Jets are going to do today, but if we had to guess (and what else are we going to do while waiting for a deal to be made) we see the Jets making a few minor deals today.

Management has been clear from the beginning that they will take a patient approach and not jeopardize the future for a potential quick fix.

The guy most likely to be moved is D-man Johnny Oduya, simply because he carries the most value among players believed to be available. He’s been doing a nice job throughout the season and played a great deal of Top-4 minutes but he’s probably best suited on a third pairing of a team that’s a Stanley Cup contender.

The asking price will be somewhere around a second-round pick for Oduya, perhaps a bit higher, depending on the interest.

The Jets are in no rush to move him, however, with a salary of $4 million this season and a cap hit of $3.5 million (with an expiring contract and pending UFA status coming on July 1), it’s hard to imagine him re-signing.

The New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are among the teams who could be kicking the tires on Oduya.

Fellow blue-liner Randy Jones is another guy who could be on the move. He’s played well of late, filling in admirably as Zach Bogosian was out of the lineup, but with Mark Flood in reserve the Jets would probably be comfortable moving Jones for a pick.

Forward Kyle Wellwood might be attracting some interest as well, but we expect him finishing out the year here and could be a guy the Jets try to re-sign.

The chances of a blockbuster appear minimal at this stage. The Jets are playing well and the mix seems to be good in the room. The stretch drive should be very interesting and with 18 games left, the Jets find themselves in eighth place and truly believe they have what it takes to qualify for the playoffs.

Since the Jets gave up an ECHL player and a fourth-rounder to the Washington Capitals to get Eric Fehr this summer, look for them to try and pick up at least one draft pick today.

Everybody is looking for scoring, but if the Jets do make a move to bring somebody in, don’t be surprised to see them bring in an energy guy who could spark the fourth line.

A guy like Dallas Stars forward Adam Burish would make sense on a lot of levels.

The Stars say they won’t be sellers, so it’s not likely to occur but Burish is a fourth line guy who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks (when Cheveldayoff was assistant GM there) and certainly passes the character test.

Burish is a pending UFA on July 1, but the type of player who could come at a reasonable price and fill an important role.

We’ll explore a few more other names later in the day.

Don’t forget to check out the QMI Agency trade deadline live blog right here:

http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/02/24/live-nhl-trade-deadline-chat

I’ll be hosting the live blog between 11 am and 1 pm. Send your questions in and we’ll do our best to provide answers.

Once the deadline has passed, we’ll get you ready for the Jets game with the Oilers.

Jets set for matinee with Blues (updated lineup)

- February 25th, 2012

It’s an afternoon delight at MTS Centre on Saturday as the Winnipeg Jets host the St. Louis Blues in the only meeting of the season between two teams that should become rivals once realignment is finally approved down the road.

Should be an interesting battle.

The Jets have been excellent on home ice this season, picking up 19 of their 30 wins at MTS Centre, while the Blues have endured some difficulty playing on the road (11-13-3) but are coming off a win against the Nashville Predators.

As we wrote about in Saturday’s Winnipeg Sun (http://www.winnipegsun.com/2012/02/24/blues-bench-boss-jets-noels-mentor), there’s an interesting dynamic behind both benches as Ken Hitchcock had a big influence on Claude Noel’s coaching career, from their time with the Kalamazoo Wings of the International Hockey League, and later worked together with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Both coaches had plenty of good things to say about the other on Friday.

The Jets have been scoring at a high rate of late but today they’ll face a stingy Blues’ team that has only given up 155 goals in 61 games. In case you were wondering, the Jets have given up 178.

“They’ve got some good elements when you look at their team,” said Noel. “They’ll manage the puck real well and they’ll check. If you look at their roster, almost every player is a plus player, by a long shot. You look at their goals against, it’s very impressive. He knows the formula to winning, your foundation ends up being defending. You’re going to have to earn every inch up the ice.”

The good news for the Jets is that they’ve been playing some tight games of late and figure to be up to the challenge.

“They’re a tight-checking group,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “They won’t give us much and we’re going to have to play a patient, checking game ourselves. It’s going to be a good test for us. They play a hard game and have a lot of big bodies over there. We’re going to have to be ready to play.”

“I know they’re playing really disciplined and they’re probably one of the best defensive teams in the NHL right now,” added Jets goalie Chris Mason. “They’ve bought into Hitch’s system and they’re really playing it to a T right now. They’re tough to beat and their goalies are tough to beat.”

Mason will start in goal for the Jets against his former team.

The Blues have winger Ryan Reaves (son of former Blue Bombers running back Willard Reaves) ready to play his first NHL game in his hometown, but fellow Winnipegger Alex Steen remains out of the lineup with post-concussion syndrome.

The Blues have gone 31-10-7 since Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne, just 13 games into the season.

“The point totals are a little surprising to us, but not the way we’re playing,” said Hitchcock. “To me, we’re playing the way we need to play. We’re a team that plays a simple, hard game. That’s the way we’re built and that’s the way we play. We’ve been able to win a lot of very close games. We’ve won a lot of games being able to manufacture wins, but we’ve been able to do that because we’ve stayed on the same page.”

Jets winger Antti Miettinen — who waived his no-movement clause — has cleared waivers but will be back in the lineup as Mark Flood, Eric Fehr and Zach Bogosian have been scratched.

Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton-Nik Antropov-Antti Miettinen

Defence pairings
Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byguflien
Ron Hainsey-Johnny Oduya
Mark Stuart-Randy Jones

Goalies
Chris Mason (Ondrej Pavelec)

St. Louis Blues
Andy McDonald-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Chris Porter-Jason Arnott-Chris Stewart
Ryan Reaves-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen

Defence pairings
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins-Roman Polak

Goalies
Jaroslav Halak (Brian Elliott)

 

 

Jets defeat Lightning 4-3

- February 24th, 2012

This game wasn’t as close as the score indicates, which is one of the reasons Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel got a little defensive when a question was asked during his post-game address about the two goals his team gave up in the final minute of Thursday’s 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

For those of you keeping track — and we know Noel is one of those people — the Jets have given up three goals in the past two games in the final minute of regulation and also gave up a goal in the final minute of overtime on Tuesday in a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

That’s a trend the Jets need to clean up and you can be sure it’s something that will be addressed, but Noel’s point is that he’d rather focus on the way his team came back from a heart-breaking defeat than the two goals they gave up with the game seemingly in hand.

“I’m happy to say that we’re first in the division,” said Noel. “They’ve got games in hand. I’m happy we’re there. I’m happy we’re third in the conference. Don’t know how long it’ll happen. I thought we played a pretty good game. There were some bumps at the end.

“The problem is that you go from one to the other okay, and then you find the negative in stuff and that’s what we run with. We played a good game for 55 minutes. Should the story be how well we bounce back? No, we talk about the end.”

We understand that Noel is merely trying to protect his players, who deserve credit for regrouping after a tough January that saw them give up most of the traction they gained during an impressive December.

Jets captain Andrew Ladd addressed the letdown and also talked about the importance of a quick start — that included two even-strength goals in the first period — against a Lightning team that had won three in a row going into Thursday.

“We had a great start and the pace of our game for the first two periods was excellent,” said Ladd. “We were able to get to the net, holding onto pucks down low and creating a lot of offence. Our D was getting involved and when we have that mixture, we’re a tough team to play against.”

With Thursday’s win the Jets were back in a playoff spot — and actually hold the third seed in the East after jumping past the Florida Panthers, who hold four games in hand but lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.

The Toronto Maple Leafs also lost on Thursday, meaning the Jets (with 67 points) moved past the Panthers (66) and Maple Leafs (65, two games in hand).

In the Jets’ dressing room, they were a fairly upbeat bunch but they weren’t about to go overboard either — another good sign for a team that can’t afford to get too high after wins or too low after losses during the stretch drive.

“We understand we have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Ladd. “Teams have games in hand on us and we’re going to have to keep playing the way we are and keep winning.”

They have reason to smile. They’re finally back above the playoff line. And while they acknowledge the task ahead remains difficult, the Jets have genuine reason to believe. They’ve got a legitimate chance to make the playoffs this spring.

The Panthers have games in hand but are 4-5-1 in their past 10 and struggled during their recent homestand.

The Maple Leafs (9th) and Washington Capitals (10th) are both 3-6-1 during their past 10 and both teams seem vulnerable.

However, the Jets can’t worry about the other teams. They’ve got 19 games left on the schedule (10 home, nine on road) and have to rack up as many points as possible. Third or eighth doesn’t really matter, though they’d love home-ice advantage if they can finish first in the Southeast.

For now, all the Jets are focusing on is getting ready for the St. Louis Blues, who visit MTS Centre on Saturday afternoon for what will be the only meeting between the two teams who should blossom into rivals after conference realignment is approved.

Here are three things that stood out from Thursday’s win:

1) Captain leads the charge — Andrew Ladd is playing some of his best hockey of the season and produced a goal and two assists on Thursday for his first three-point game of the season. The top unit with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler has combined for 28 points during the past seven games. Ladd said last week the Jets’ best players have to be their best players on a consistent basis and he’s backed up his words with action. His two goals give him 21 on the season and leave him just behind Evander Kane (23).

“It’s just awesome to see him playing the way he’s playing right now,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “He’s a huge part of our team and when he’s going, as you can see, it makes our team that much better. That’s what we need from him and that’s what we need over the last 19 games as well.”

2) Power play continues to roll — Just last week, it looked like the Jets might not score again with the man advantage (kidding of course), so imagine what it was like when they converted seven of seven opportunities over the past three games — including a 2-for-2 showing on Thursday before coming up empty in the third period to snap the impressive streak.

Wheeler was asked if he’d ever been part of a PP that had gone 7-for-7?

“Maybe on my X-box or something like that — other than that, I don’t know if it’s ever happened,” said Wheeler. “It’s pretty good. We weren’t very good for a long time.”

What happened on the eighth chance?

“I think we got a little complacent,” Wheeler quipped, before getting back on point. “That seems to happen sometimes. We’ll take 7-for-8 and try to start a new streak next game.”

3) Big Buff is heating up — Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and an assist to move into a tie for fourth (with Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators) among blue-liners in points with 38 (10 goals, 28 assists) on the season. Sure, the D-zone play remains a work in progress but the key is that Byfuglien is working hard to make progress and be more effective at both ends of the rink.

“Anytime you can be up there, it comes with good team work,” said Byfuglien, who has missed 17 games this season due to injury. “Team is everything. No one can do it by themselves. We’ve really been playing fairly good hockey lately and that’s a big thing.”

 

Jets and Lightning renew acquaintances

- February 23rd, 2012

It’s another day without blue-liner Zach Bogosian as the Winnipeg Jets resume an eight-game homestand with a game on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Both teams are playing well right now, the Jets 3-0-1 and the Lightning riding a three-game winning streak and 10-3-2 over their past 15 games.

Both teams remain in the playoff picture as only five points separate them and the Lightning hold three games in hand.

This is the fourth meeting of the season between the two clubs, with the Jets holding a 2-1 lead on the strength of an OT win at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Feb. 2 that featured the first OT goal of Kyle Wellwood’s career.

It will be interesting to see how the Jets respond to a tough 5-4 OT loss to the Philadelphia Flyers that saw them give up a goal with 10.8 seconds left in regulation and 43.6 seconds left in extra time.

The Jets can’t waste any time worrying about what might have been. They’ve got 20 games left in the regular season and they’ll need a strong finish to get back 65 to the 90 or 92 points that most believe are required to qualify for the playoffs.

Bogosian will miss his fifth consecutive game with an undisclosed upper-body injury and while head coach Claude Noel said he was considering Mark Flood and going with 11 forwards and 7 D-men, we expect Antti Miettinen is going to replace Eric Fehr on the fourth line instead.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start Thursday’s game:

Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton-Nik Antropov-Antti Miettinen

Defence pairings
Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byguflien
Ron Hainsey-Johnny Oduya
Mark Stuart-Randy Jones

Goalies
Ondrej Pavelec (Chris Mason)

Tampa Bay Lightning
Martin St. Louis-Steven Stamkos-Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone-Nate Thompson-Adam Hall
Tom Pyatt-Brett Connolly-Ryan Shannon
J.T. Wyman-Trevor Smith-Mike Angelidis

Defence pairings
Eric Brewer-Victor Hedman
Brett Clark-Matt Gilroy
Brendan Mikkelson-Bruno Gervais

Goalies
Mathieu Garon (Dwayne Roloson)

Pavelec brilliant but Jets fall in OT to Flyers

- February 21st, 2012

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec had another one of those nights that fans who were inside MTS Centre or watching on TV are going to remember for a long time.

By the time roughly 64 minutes and 16 seconds had been played on Tuesday, Pavelec had made 55 saves but that wasn’t enough as the Winnipeg Jets fell 5-4 in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Pavelec was the story in this one as many of his stops were of the highlight-reel variety — and the one that supplied the most drama saw him dive across his crease to rob fellow Czech Repulic countrymen Jakub Voracek on the backdoor to prevent a power-play goal that would have tied the game.

“He’s been playing like that the whole year,” said Jets winger Evander Kane, who scored his 23rd goal of the season at 4:57 of the third period on a floating wrister from just inside the blue line that fooled Ilya Bryzgalov. “It’s been pretty spectacular, but I don’t think we’re too surprised by it. There’s a lot of pucks that go towards the net and not a lot of goalies would be able to stop. But he’s so athletic, he’s able to do that.”

As has been customary of late at MTS Centre, fans have been rising to their feet to salute the outstanding work of Pavelec, who made his 50th start and 51st appearance in 62 games.

“He was excellent, he gave us a chance to win and I feel bad for him because we spoiled a great performance on his part,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who scored twice in a span of 64 seconds during the second period to give him 19 goals on the season. “I’m sure he’s frustrated.”

There’s no doubt Pavelec was frustrated.

As I made my way toward the Jets’ dressing room after filing the game-over story on deadline, Pavelec was seen pacing in the hallway and his frustration was evident. This was one of the only times we can remember all season that Pavelec didn’t address the media after the game and he’s certainly earned the goodwill during the course of the campaign to be excused. We’re guessing he was exercising the old adage that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all…

Finding a way to get the two points is all that Pavelec cares about and his show of frustration merely reiterated that belief.

Giving up a goal in the final minute of regulation and final minute of overtime is tough for any team to swallow, but since the Jets are playing games every other day this week, there’s simply no time to waste worrying about lost points.

In some ways, the Jets might not even have earned a point without the play of Pavelec, so finding a way to build on the positives is all they can do at this point.

* The Jets’ power play that struggled to the tune of 5-for-53 has scored on five consecutive chances, including three on Tuesday vs Philly. Tim Stapleton had assists on each of the PP goals.

* Top line remains hot: Ladd had two goals (on five shots), while Blake Wheeler (one assist) and Bryan Little (two assists) paced the offence again.

* Kane is able: The third-year left-winger now has 23 goals on the season and has five goals and eight points in the eight games since returning from a concussion that kept him out of the lineup for seven games.

In other news, the Eastern Conference race continues to be interesting.

With the point gained for the overtime loss, the Jets remained in ninth place but improved their standing somewhat.

With 65 points (in 62 games), the Jets are tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs (who hold two games in hand but lost in OT to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday) and the Florida Panthers (who have four games in hand and maintain top spot in the Southeast Division for now).

The Jets are back in action Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are riding a three-game winning streak despite the fact they’ve moved three players – Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina and Steve Downie – in deals this week to build for the future. They’re also without Vinny Lecavalier, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.

Even still, head coach Guy Boucher has the Lighting playing well. They’re currently 11th in the East and only five points behind the Jets in the standings, while holding three games in hand.

 

Jets to face Bryzgalov and Flyers

- February 21st, 2012

After what appeared to be some posturing earlier in the day, the Philadelphia Flyers announced on twitter Tuesday afternoon that Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starter in goal against the Winnipeg Jets, a development that likely has fans coming to the MTS Centre foaming at the mouth for the chance to chant his name and deliver some boos.

Bryzgalov — who criticized Winnipeg last spring as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes but subsequently apologized during a visit here in November where he served as the backup — has endured an up-and-down season with the Flyers, going 20-11-6 with a 2.79 GAA and .900 save % in 40 appearances this season.

His most recent outing saw Bryzgalov get pulled against the Pittsburgh Penguins an he declared after the contest that he was going to try and “find peace” to play goal in Philadelphia.

Bryzgalov has often been brutally honest in his dealings with the media and his rough morning at MTS Centre Tuesday morning included a shot off his finger from teammate Claude Giroux that forced him to leave the ice early.

Bryzgalov declined an interview request and was overheard telling a few teammates he was okay, so we figured he’d be getting the nod.

How his confidence holds up will be a storyline to follow here this evening, especially since the Jets have found their offensive game of late, putting up 12 goals in regulation during the past three games (13 if you count the shootout marker).

The Jets are riding a three-game winning streak going into their fourth and final meeting with the Flyers and will attempt to secure a series sweep after earning 9-8, 6-4 and 2-1 (shootout) wins over them this season.

“We’ve had some energy when we’ve played them and have been able to score goals,” said Jets winger Kyle Wellwood. “We’re hoping to jump on their goaltenders again and make it a rough night.”

Wellwood won’t get the chance to face his younger brother Eric, who has appeared in four games for the Flyers but looks like he’ll be a healthy scratch in this one.

The Flyers will have both Pavel Kubina and Nicklas Grossman in the lineup after picking up the experienced blue-liners in separate swaps last week.

“It adds some depth, some experience and some size back there — and that’s a positive,” said Peter Laviolette.

With a win, the Jets would move into first place in the Southeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference, though the Florida Panthers would hold four games in hand.

“This is a big opportunity for us,” said Jets defenceman Randy Jones. “I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the standings, but I understand we’re in a crucial time right now and a crucial spot. We just have to control our own fate, win games and let the rest happen.”

Fellow blue-liner Zach Bogosian remains on the sidelines with an upper-body injury, while winger Eric Fehr is getting another shot on the fourth line with Antti Miettinen a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.

Puck drops at 6:05 p.m. and here’s how we expect both teams to start on Tuesday:

Winnipeg Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton-Nik Antropov-Eric Fehr

Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien
Johnny Oduya-Ron Hainsey
Mark Stuart-Randy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec (Chris Mason)

Philadelphia Flyers

Scott Hartnell-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds
Danny Briere-Matt Read-Jaromir Jagr
James van Riesmsdyk-Brayden Schenn-Jakub Voracek
Max Talbot-Sean Couturier-Zac Rinaldo

Kimmo Timmonen-Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle-Pavel Kubina
Nicklas Grossman-Andrej Meszaros

Ilya Bryzgalov (Sergei Bobrovsky)

Jets defeat Avalanche 5-1

- February 20th, 2012

The Winnipeg Jets extended their winning streak to three on Sunday night.

For those of you keeping track, this is the first time the Jets have won three straight since late December, when they beat the Avalanche on the 27th, the Los Angeles Kings on the 29th and the Maple Leafs on the 31st. The last four-game winning streak came at the start of December when they defeated the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes to start an outstanding month.

On an evening when some wondered if the Jets might be in for a trap game — or letdown, if you will — the Jets instead showed a little more resiliency in a 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

No, the game wouldn’t have been as lopsided as the score would indicate, were it not from 18 saves in the second period and 31 in the game from Ondrej Pavelec, it’s not like the Jets goalie had to go out and steal the show either.

The Jets jumped out to a 2-0 lead, let the Avalanche back in the game after a goal from rookie Gabriel Landeskog at 10:42 of the second period but restored the two-goal advantage less than two minutes later and never looked back.

Offensively, the Jets top guns continued to produce — and that’s a must if they want to keep moving up the Eastern Conference standings (we’ll get to that a bit later).

The Jets top trio of Blake Wheeler (four assists), Bryan Little (two goals) and captain Andrew Ladd (one goal, one assist) combined on three goals and eight points in this one.

The three started the season together, were split up and have now found the chemistry that allowed them to have success late last season with the Atlanta Thrashers after being reunited once again.

“Our whole line is playing well. Right when we were put together after the All-star break, we made a conscious effort to make this work like we did last year and we’re going really well right now,” said Wheeler, who has established a career high with 46 points — eclipsing the 45 he produced as a rookie for the Bruins back in 2008-09. “We’re trying to win puck battles and keep things simple and it’s turning into some good chances for us and it’s translated into some big goals.”

Little has four goals in his past two games to give him 18 on the season.

“The puck just feels like it’s coming to me right now,” said Little. “Both plays, I was just trying to hang around the net and (the puck) just ended up on my stick. That’s the way it’s gone this year, scoring in bunches. That’s not the way you would like it to go, but that’s how it’s been going.”

Ladd, meanwhile, admitted feeling some relief to snapping a 13-game drought with his power play marker at 5:40 of the third.

“Obviously, I still think I bring a lot to the table (other than scoring) but I think I probably got away from that for a bit and wasn’t happy with my game,” said Ladd, who has 17 goals and 31 points in 61 games. “I’ve been really happy with my game the past two, three games and thought it would come after that. It was nice to finally get it.”

The second line of Evander Kane (one goal, one assist), Kyle Wellwood (one goal, one assist) and Alex Burmistrov (one assist) had a solid offensive contribution as well.

Burmistrov also made a heads up play during the second roughing minor to Kane that drew a cross-checking call on Avs D-man Kyle Quincey that nullified the power play.

As for the play that led to the Kane double minor, Avs D-man Shane O’Brien took a run at Kane and caught him with a high hit inside the Jets’ blue-line after he pinched in and as the play continued Kane went right back at O’Brien and dropped his gloves at 7:45 of the third period.

When the dust settled, Kane was given a double minor and O’Brien escaped with nothing. In our opinion, it should have been four minutes for Kane and two for O’Brien — though Kane certainly initiated the extracurricular activity.

Given the situation, I didn’t mind that Kane stuck up for himself and went after O’Brien. With a 4-1 lead, it certainly opened the door for the Avalanche (who have the top road power play in the NHL) to get back into the game if they had converted on one (or both of the opportunities) but the Jets managed to come away unscathed and the penalty didn’t cost them.

Obviously, if it’s a 2-1 or 3-1 game, Kane would need to show a little more discipline and restraint and take a number but he gets a little more leeway in this case when you’re holding a three-goal lead. It should also be noted that if it wasn’t Kane who dropped the gloves, Dustin Byfuglien was also ready to come to Kane’s defence.

As for those standings, the Jets (who have 64 points but have played 61 games) are now tied for eighth spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs (who have two games in hand) and are only one point behind the Florida Panthers (who hold three games in hand) while occupying top spot in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the East that currently comes with it.

“We still have to take advantage of this homestand, we find another level here and feed off the energy,” said Little.

The Jets are back in action Tuesday at 6 p.m. as they continue an eight-game homestand against Ilya Bryzgalov and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Whether Bryzgalov can find peace to play in Winnipeg (should he get the call to start in goal) is anyone’s guess.

 

Jets ready for Avalanche

- February 19th, 2012

After getting some help on the out-of-town scoreboard on Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets take the next step towards their playoff push against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night at MTS Centre.

A Toronto Maple Leafs loss to the Vancouver Canucks and a Washington Capitals defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning was well-received inside the Jets’ dressing room, but they understand that taking care of their own business is key at this time of the season.

The Jets remain in 10th place, but are only one point behind the Caps and two behind the Leafs — with 22 games left in the regular season.

“I actually had both of them on, to be honest,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “It’s getting to be that time when scoreboard watching comes into it, but when we’re playing, that’s the only thing that matters. If we don’t get two points, it doesn’t matter what any of the other teams are doing.”

Jets winger Evander Kane put it this way.

“You control your own destiny at this point of the year, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played,” said Kane. “As much as it’s great and you hope it goes your way in the other games, you have to focus on yourself. I’m definitely watching the standings but the No. 1 task is here with us.”

Since a disheartening 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at MTS Centre, the Jets regrouped with a 4-3 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild and a 4-2 triumph over the Boston Bruins on Friday.

One of the most encouraging things for the Jets is that they’ve spread out the offence during the past two wins.

“Hard work is paying off and the execution level has been a lot higher the past two games than it has previously and that’s probably a big key to why we’re finishing off plays,” said Kane, who has two goals and two assists during the past two games. “The Islander game, we were up and we kind of got discouraged in that game and ended up losing it. After that game, we kind of made a promise to ourselves that we can’t be discouraged when other teams score goals on us. So far, we’ve done a good job of not letting that creep into our game.”

A win over the Avalanche would vault the Jets into a tie with the Maple Leafs, but they’d technically remain outside the playoff line because the Leafs have played two fewer games. That’s of little concern for the Jets right now.

Defenceman Zach Bogosian will miss his third consecutive game for the Jets, but Noel sounded encouraged that he might return in time for Tuesday’s tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Avalanche should get a boost with the return of forward Matt Duchene, who returns to the lineup Sunday after missing the past 20 games with a knee injury. However, Peter Mueller will miss his third consecutive game with a torso injury.

Here’s how we expect both teams to start the game on Sunday:

Winnipeg Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton-Nik Antropov-Eric Fehr

Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byguflien
Ron Hainsey-Johnny Oduya
Mark Stuart-Randy Jones

Goalies
Ondrej Pavelec (Chris Mason)

Avalanche
Matt Duchene-Paul Stastny-Milan Hejduk
Mark Olver-Ryan O’Reilly-Gabriel Landeskog
Daniel Winnik-Jay McClement-David Jones
Cody McLeod-Kevin Porter-Chuck Kobasew

Jan Hejda-Erik Johnson
Kyle Quincey-Ryan O’Byrne
Shane O’Brien-Ryan Wilson

Semyon Varlamaov (Cedrick Desjardins)

Statement win by Jets over Bruins

- February 18th, 2012

Loved the fact several Winnipeg Jets were reluctant to use the term “statement game” themselves following Friday’s 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins, but there’s little doubt the team served notice they’re not ready to fold up the tent when it comes to the challenge of trying to stay in this Eastern Conference playoff chase.

As we mentioned in our game analysis column, seeing the Bruins score in the opening minute of the third period to tie the contest seemed like a harbinger of bad things to come for the Jets, especially after they were forced to go on the penalty kill less than a minute later after Bryan Little headed off for hooking.

However, for the second time in the game, the Jets found some momentum after a successful kill and sure enough, it was Little who scored his first of two goals 2:04 apart to help his team restore control.

Wheeler’s goal at 15:50 of the second period came 30 seconds after an elbowing penalty to Evander Kane, while Little’s first goal came 33 seconds after he got out of the sin bin.

“Our PK had been letting some goals in the past few games, so we really wanted to shut that down,” said Jets centre Jim Slater. “Boston has a great power play and it was a good job by our three groups to stand tall. We blocked a few shots on the PK and when you get a lift from a big PK, it can bring some momentum swings for your team.”

On Saturday, we asked Ondrej Pavelec about the save he made on Patrice Bergeron — a moment Claude Noel called critical after the game.

Pavelec was quick to downplay the save when I asked him if it was one of the best highlight-reel saves of the year this morning.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Pavelec. “It was a 2-on-1 and our D did a good job. It was a hard pass (by Brad Marchand to Bergeron), a rocket and I don’t know if Bergeron was ready for it. He just put the stick there and I put the glove there. You need a little luck for those saves. He pretty much had an open net and you try to get there as quick as you can. It would have been tough (to give up a goal there) it would have been 4-3. But it’s my job to make those saves. I’m trying all the time to help the team. And I wasn’t happy with the two goals I let in. I was trying to do something in the third. Finally, I did. It was nice to see how the guys respond. It was a great third period for us.”

There’s no question the Jets top line of Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler drove the bus in this game. The night before it was the Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood unit.

Remember what Ladd said on Wednesday about the best players needing to be the best players on a nightly basis? The theory held true in the first two games of this important stretch, that’s for sure.

Wheeler was a beast against his former team — picking up a goal and two assists in 20:48 of ice time while recording four shots on goal and sending Chris Kelly flying when the Bruins forward actually took a run at him — and seemed to relish the match-up with B’s captain and giant Zdeno Chara, who had a rare tough night and was on the ice for three of the four goals the Jets scored.

“First of all, Chara is not an easy guy to play against and he plays a lot of minutes,” said Noel. “Wheeler played like he wasn’t going to be denied in this game. He certainly looks like a Top-6 forward to me right now.”

Saturday didn’t bring a great deal of news, as only three Jets — birthday boy Nik Antropov (who turned 32), Mark Flood and Eric Fehr — hit the ice for the optional skate.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche skated at MTS Centre, fresh off a 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers and the news of the day for them was that centre Matt Duchene is ready to return to the lineup Sunday for the first time since suffering a knee injury on Dec. 29. Duchene has 12 goals and 24 points in 39 games this season.

Can the Jets find a way to make it three consecutive victories on Sunday in a game against the Avalanche?

We’re certainly interested to see what type of effort is put forth.

There have been a few times this season when the Jets have allowed success to go to their head and they simply can’t afford a letdown against the Avalanche, as there are only 22 games left on the docket.

The Jets beat the Avalanche 4-1 back on Dec. 27 at Pepsi Center, as Evander Kane scored twice, while Tim Stapleton and Little had singles and Pavelec made 32 saves.

We said at the start of the season that the Jets would sneak into the playoffs in the eighth spot and we still believe it can be done.

However, we’re thinking the Jets need to win 6 (or more) of 8 on the homestand to make up some ground.

Finding a way to sweep the two-game season series against the Avalanche would be an important next step.