Jets ready for Rangers? (updated with projected lineups)

- March 13th, 2013

I’m back from vacation and the blog is back up and running here and will be throughout the rest of the 2013 NHL season.

The Winnipeg Jets enter Thursday’s action neck-and-neck with the New York Rangers in the chase for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 28 points, though the Rangers have a game in hand, leaving the Jets just below the Top-8.

We realize there is nearly half a season of hockey left to be played, but if the Jets want to stay in this race, these are precisely the type of games they’re going to have to win with regularity.

The Jets rose to the occasion on Tuesday night, handing the Toronto Maple Leafs a 5-2 defeat in what by most accounts was one of the liveliest atmosphere’s at MTS Centre this season.

Not to rain on the Jets’ parade, but they remain a game below .500 on home ice, with a 5-6 record and that needs to improve.

With that in mind, playing the way they did on Tuesday needs to become the new normal.

“It’s a tough team to play against and we have to build off our last game,” said Jets centre Olli Jokinen. “The way played against Toronto was a pretty good team game for us. We have to keep going. The level of work ethic, the level of our play and buying into the team game, the bar was high last night and we have to keep that bar high. We’ve got to keep moving forward, game-by-game.

“We’ve been around .500, one game over, a couple games under. It’s been like that for the last 20 games. We want to make a push forward and it’s a good challenge (Thursday) again.”

But what can the Jets do to keep that bar high?

“As a group, our expectations have got to be higher,” said Jokinen. “As a team, the last two, three weeks. The last 10, 11 games, our record is pretty good and we’re understanding what it takes to win the games. That’s better than at the beginning of the year. We’ve become more of a team. We’ve been playing good hockey lately, but nobody is satisfied and that’s a good sign. It’s a sign of a team that wants to move forward and get better. It’s been positive and we’ve got to keep climbing up.”

The Jets defeated the Rangers at MSG 4-3 on Feb. 26 in a game that saw Jokinen and Evander Kane each score twice and Anthony Peluso pick up the first two assists of his NHL career.

Peluso won’t be involved in this one though, as he continues to sit out with a suspected broken hand., while the Rangers lineup will be bolstered by the addions of Rick Nash and Michael Del Zotto, who missed the last meeting with injuries. Rangers D-man Marc Staal isn’t on the trip after taking a puck in the eye, which is obviously a blow to the lineup.

Beating the teams above you in the standings is a challenge the Jets have to embrace and they’re going to be facing a Rangers team that is sure to be hungry after a lacklustre effort in a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday that had head coach John Tortorella fuming and unleashing hs fury to the media during a memorable post-game rant.

Tortorella was in a talkative mood, speaking for roughly six minutes — hope you took the over on the over/under of two minutes the media had set as the benchmark — when chatting with the media on Wednesday afternoon after a crisp workout at MTS Iceplex that featured some tempo and plenty of enthusiasm.

“We did our video and we get ready to play the next game, as always,” said Tortorella. “Is that it?”

Not quite. Tortorella fielded another question about the Sabres game.

“It was brought up today, pretty extensively and now we’re done with it,” said Tortorella, who made it clear he was ready to move on to other subjects. “We have learned for it and we’re getting ready to play against a pretty good team here tomorrow night.”

Tortorella made it clear he was more focused on how his team was going to play or respond and made it clear that a condensed schedule isn’t an excuse for inconsistent play, even though many teams around the NHL have been a little more up-and-down than usual.

“I don’t really spend too much time watching other teams because there is so much to do with your own,” he said. “But I know a lot of leads are lost, there are some crazy things going on. I’ll speak for our team. I think it’s beginning to settle down. I still think we’re going in the right direction with our consistency.

“The way we’re trying to approach it, let’s not BS-it here. Let’s not use any excuses. I think our conditioning is better. It is what it is. All teams are going through it. We’re trying to stay away from all the lockout talk, what’s happened with a shortened season. This is our season. We’re halfway through our season and this is where you really need to nail down your structure and your consistency.”

The only local product on the Rangers is Portage la Prairie product Arron Asham and while he did participate in the practice on Wednesday, he won’t be suiting up in his home province tomorrow as he continues to recover from back spasms.

Asham, who signed with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent, has one goal and 17 penalty minutes in 12 games with the Rangers this season (averaging just over six minutes of ice time per game), but Tortorella admitted he needs him to get healthy to really show what kind of impact he can have on his new club.

“I like Ash, I’ve always liked him as a player but we really haven’t seen exactly what he’s going to do with our club,” said Tortorella. “When we did our work on him, before we signed him, he’s played for every damn team in the league. We talked to a lot of teams in the league and everybody raved about him, about what type of guy he was. That is certainly there. I haven’t seen enough of him. I’ve seen him from afar, he brings an element to the team (toughness) and also can play. I know that. But we need to get him healthy, to see if he can help us.”

We’ve got an extensive package in Thursday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com to help tee up the match-up.

I’ve got a story on Kyle Wellwood’s recent resurgence, a game set-up that includes items on the Jim Slater injury and the match-up itself and also a notebook includes talk about Patrice Cormier, who was recalled from the St. John’s IceCaps on Wednesday and should be on ice for morning skate on Thursday.

Although Noel was still calling it a game-time decision, Burmistrov did the extra conditioning skate with D-man Paul Postma and is on track to be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game, as Cormier slots in for Slater on the fourth line.

The other news from Thursday morning was that Al Montoya tweaked his lower-body injury but isn’t expected to be out long term. That was the reason Eddie Pasquale was recalled from the IceCaps.

Kirk Penton looks a bit closer on the Burmistrov situation, with comments from the Russian forward and head coach Claude Noel.

Penton also has a sidebar on James Wright.

Columnist Paul Friesen rounds out the coverage with a column looking at the role of tough guy Chris Thorburn.

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

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

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

Ondrej Pavelec (Eddie Pasquale)

RANGERS

Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards, Rick Nash
Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan
Taylor Pyatt, Brian Boyle, J.T. Miller,
Michael Haley, Jeff Halpern, Darroll Powe

Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman
Roman Hamrlik, Steve Eminger

Henrik Lundvist (Martin Biron)

Categories: Hockey

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