A victory on opening night had the Winnipeg Jets feeling good — but “not separating their shoulders congratulating themselves” — as head coach Claude Noel likes to say.
Finding a way to put a second straight W on the board is another challenge entirely as the Jets host the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Friday night in their home opener.
Home and season openers have not been kind to the Jets during their first two seasons back in the NHL — falling 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators last January and 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens in Oct of 2011.
“You’re excited to get back and play in front of your home fans. It’s a different atmosphere compared to the middle of the season. The first one is always exciting,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “We always want to be a team that plays well at home and takes advantage of the energy in this building.
“We want to build on the good things we did in Edmonton and try to correct some of the mistakes we made. As a team, you try to do that throughout the year and good things will happen.”
The Jets won their season opener on Tuesday night in Edmonton, rallying from a 4-2 deficit to defeat the Oilers 5-4 but now they’re up against a big, strong Kings squad that plays a heavy, reliable defensive game and boasts high-end forwards like Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and honourary Manitoba Mike Richards and a Norris Trophy candidate in Drew Doughty and a young talent like Slava Voynov on the back end with physical guys like Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene supply some physical play from the blue-line.
“With the success they’ve had, any time you’re playing a team like that, it’s going to be a good test,” said Ladd. “They’ll more so test the way we play. We’ve got to make sure that we’re playing the right way, making sure we’re putting pucks in the right areas because they’re a team that takes advantage of turnovers.”
Did we mention the Kings feature Jonathan Quick, one of the NHLs elite and a guy in line to possibly be the Team USA starter at the 2014 Olympics?
“Any good goaltender, it’s all about getting traffic, (getting) pucks to the net and trying to create second chances to where he’s out of position and maybe you can capitalize,” said Ladd. “That’ll be the game plan, as usual.”
The Kings are facing a challenge of their own, having played Thursday night in St. Paul, Minn. and earning a 3-2 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild — becoming the first team to ever defeat the Wild in their home opener.
But playing games on consecutive days is nothing new for the Kings, so that excuse won’t be tolerated.
“That is the challenge teams out west face all the time, back-to-backs with lots of travel,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter on Friday at MTS Centre following an optional skate. “We do it 12 times. We did it once in pre-season so hopefully we’ve rehearsed it a little bit. The players get used to it and learn how to handle it. You have to use everybody, you can’t use a short bench. That’s always your toughest challenge.”
Sutter also conceded it was going to be an exciting atmosphere inside MTS Centre.
“We’re getting ready for another home opener,” he said. “But we know that every night here is like a home opener.”
5 things to watch tonight:
1) Can the Jets adjust to the physical, grind-it-out style the Kings will certainly be playing?
2) Will Jets generate enough traffic in front of Jonathan Quick to make life difficult on the Kings’ netminder?
3) It’s another test for the Jets’ rookies, C Mark Scheifele and D Jacob Trouba (who will have his father John and older brother T.J. in attendance for the game tonight). Can they have as big an impact as they did in the opener?
“It’s definitely a bigger, heavier, more physical team I think,” said Trouba. “It should be a good challenge and I’m excited for it. I think it’s going to be pretty much a completely different game than what Edmonton was. I’m looking forward to the challenge and am going to do what I can.”
4) Can Jets win the special-teams battle? (They lost it 2-1 to Oilers on Tuesday)
5) Will Jets set the tone by making the MTS Centre a place that is tougher for opponents to play in during the 2013-14 season?
Here’s what Noel said when I asked him about that this morning: “The start of the game is very important. It’s important to get the fans in the game. If we play well and perform well, the fans get into it. They want you to work. And we want to work.”
One last thing about the Jets’ roster — Noel said D Grant Clitsome remains day-to-day with a lower-body ailment. Said he might be an option for Sunday, but as of now he remains on the injured list.
Scratches tonight will be the same as in the opener for Jets: RW Matt Halischuk, RW Anthony Peluso, D Adam Pardy.
Here’s how we expect both teams to start on Friday night:
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Devin Setoguchi
James Wright-Olli Jokinen-Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien
Zach Bogosian-Jacob Trouba
Mark Stuart-Paul Postma
Ondrej Pavelec (Al Monotya)
Spares: RW Matt Halischuk, RW Anthony Peluso, D Adam Pardy
Kings Gameday lines
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Matt Frattin-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Willie Mithcell-Slava Voynov
Jake Muzzin-Matt Greene
Jonathan Quick (Ben Scrivens)
Spares: LW Daniel Carcillo, D Alec Martinez, D Keaton Ellerby