Jets look to bury Capitals

- March 21st, 2013

Can the Winnipeg Jets squash the Washington Capitals playoff hopes or will they let their Southeast Division rival stick around?

That’s the million-dollar question going into the first of two games on consecutive nights between the two teams.

The Jets (16-12-2) enter Thursday’s action with a nine-point lead on the Capitals (12-16-1) and it doesn’t take a mathematician to decipher the ramifications of a sweep for either side.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. The Capitals are playing to keep their season alive.

“We still feel like we’re in the playoff picture,” said Caps winger Troy Brouwer. “We still have a lot of work to do to get in there, but until we’re mathematically eliminated, we still feel like we have an opportunity. These back-to-back games are really important, we’re trying to catch Winnipeg and it starts with tonight. We’ve got to get points. It doesn’t matter how. That’s all we’re stressing right now.”

The Jets realize the Caps, who have improved since a woeful 2-8-1 start to the season, will be bringing the requisite level of desperation, so they’ll need to respond in kind.

“At this time of the year, everyone should be desperate,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “We need that in our game to be successful. They played really well last game (Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins). They just didn’t get the results. This isn’t going to be an easy game. They haven’t been easy games against them this year. We’re expecting a tough opponent.

“We understand where we are. We’re in that big group that is kind of battling for the last few playoff spots, even though we have the (division) lead right now. We want to distance ourselves from that group. These are two big games against a division opponent that we can separate ourselves from.”

“We know how big it is, but we’re not going to have a different game-plan from the previous games,” added Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. “If we play the right way, the way we’re capable of, we’ll do okay.”

At times during the past two seasons, the Jets seem to raise their level against elite teams but have occasionally struggled against teams that aren’t playing as well.

Given the circumstances and the growth the group has shown, the Jets aren’t worried about any sort of letdown.

“We have to treat every game, every shift the same,” said Bogosian. “They have some guys that can hurt you ever there, guys that can put the puck in the back of the net. We have to be aware of who is on the ice and make sure we’re getting the job done.”

Ondrej Pavelec gets the call in goal for the Jets, while Braden Holtby — who posted a 35-save shutout in a 3-0 win back on Mar. 2 at MTS Centre — goes for the Capitals.

“It’s going to be another good one. Another battle,” said Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. “We’re going to have to come out strong, be ready to play and ready to go.”

Byfuglien is enjoying a solid season, but struggled on Tuesday in the 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. However, Byfuglien said he’s not tired and is happy to continue to carry a heavy load in terms of logging major minutes during the stretch drive.

“It’s just a matter of committing and doing it,” said Byfuglien. “You can do anything you want to. Just go out there and play. Keep it simple and smart.”

Evander Kane and Ron Hainsey took a maintenance day with the busy schedule, but the Jets will ice the same 18 skaters. The only change comes with Al Montoya activated from the injured reserve list and Eddie Pasquale heading back to the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League.

Montoya told reporters that he’s feeling great and will back up tonight.

When I asked him if he was prepared to start this week, Montoya said he would answer the call whenever it comes.

“I’m ready to go,” said Montoya. “Pavs has been playing great. He’s a big reason we are where we are now. Whenever I’m called upon, I’ll be ready to go.”

As I’ve been saying, I would expect Montoya to start either Friday against the Capitals or Sunday against the Lightning.

Jets D Toby Enstrom reiterated he’d like to get back as soon as possible and there’s a chance he could return either Friday against the Caps or Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Noel said Enstrom wouldn’t play Thursday, but “it’s coming soon.”

Although Caps head coach Adam Oates said D Mike Green would be a game-time decision, he’s expected to return after missing the past 10 games with a groin injury.

Green, an excellent puck mover who was among the rising stars on defence in the NHL before injuries hit him, has missed 93 of the past 193 Capitals games (thanks to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post for that stat).

Winkler product Eric Fehr is enjoying a pretty solid season with the Capitals, putting up six goals and 12 points in 26 games to go along with a team-best plus-7 plus/minus rating.

“It feels great to be in the lineup, consistently playing. It’s good to enjoy the game again,” said Fehr, who had only two goals and three points in 35 games during an injury-plagued season with the Jets last year. “We’ve showed spurts of being a really good team. We’ve had some really good games, but we haven’t been able to put together a string of games. With where we are in the standings right now, we need to start winning a lot of games in a row. It’s got to start tonight.”

Here’s how we expect the two teams to start on Thursday:

JETS
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Antti Miettinen
James Wright, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood
Eric Tangradi, Alex Burmistrov, Chris Thorburn

Grant Clitsome, Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart, Derek Meech

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

Caps

Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich-Mike Ribeiro-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Mathieu Perreault-Eric Fehr
Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward

Karl Alzner-Mike Green
Jeff Schultz-John Carlson
Jack Hillen-Dmitry Orlov

Braden Holtby (Michal Neuvirth)

Categories: Hockey

Subscribe to the post

Leave a comment

 characters available