Two big points are on the line for a pair of teams desperately trying to stay in the Western Conference playoff chase as the Winnipeg Jets host the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night at MTS Centre.
The Jets will try to build on the effort they put forth in an OT loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, while the Canucks are looking to snap a seven-game road losing skid that began in Winnipeg back on Jan. 31.
“We were able to get a point over some of these last games, but we need both points right now,” said Jets centre Bryan Little, who established a career high with 52 points in 66 games this season. “The teams that we’re chasing are playing well and winning games. You look at the standings and they’re starting to get a bit of a gap ahead of us. Right now, every game is big.
“Vancouver is a team that’s going to want to come in here and win and obviously, we’re trying to get back in the win column. These are turning into must-win games right now.”
With the Dallas Stars (in OT) and Phoenix Coyotes both winning on Tuesday, the Jets trail the Coyotes by five points and the Stars by six points in the chase for the final wild-card berth (held by the Stars).
The Canucks are Jets both have 68 points, though the Jets hold a game in hand on them.
“We understand where we’re at. Having lost four in a row, we need to start stringing some wins together,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “We liked our game last game and we want to build on what we did (in Denver).”
“It’s two teams with the same number of points and time is running out,” said Jets winger Evander Kane. “It’s a good opportunity for us to get back on track here. Both teams are going to be coming out hungry for this one, us especially. Last week didn’t go the way we wanted to at home (with three losses) and we have to correct that here tonight.”
Kane was also asked about his level of frustration regarding his nine-game scoring drought?
“Those games were broken up and I’ve been hurt for a month,” said Kane. “It’s something that you’ve got to take one game at a time and tonight’s a new night. We’ll see what happens.”
Kane was able to create some dangerous chances on Monday, including several while skating shorthanded with Blake Wheeler.
Kane is certainly due to find the back of the net and you know he’s going to be fired up to be facing his hometown team, the Canucks.
The Jets are making a couple of lineup changes, inserting Eric O’Dell (who was recalled on Wednesday morning) and Chris Thorburn (wrist) onto the fourth line and removing Eric Tangradi and John Albert (who isn’t quite 100% after suffering an upper-body injury on Monday night during the second period when he crashed into the boards awkwardly).
Anthony Peluso stays in on the fourth line, likely as a deterrent to Canucks enforcer Tom Sestito and to play a physical game.
While some folks took to Twitter to ask why O’Dell isn’t being given more of an offensive role, let’s not forget that Jim Slater is coming off a strong game between Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler. Also, O’Dell needs to be eased back into things here and he certainly could see a bump to the third line if the Jets fall behind. He’s not going to replace the offence of Mark Scheifele, but this is an opportunity for O’Dell to show he deserves to be in the lineup during the stretch drive.
Either way, O’Dell was thrilled to get the call again.
“We’re doing pretty good down there, but I’m excited to get the call and I’m ready to get in the lineup and show what I’ve got,” said O’Dell, referring to the eight-game winning streak the St. John’s IceCaps will put on the line on Wednesday night. “Going down there (to St. John’s) got my confidence back up and I’m ready for tonight’s game. I’ve got to keep it simple and play with some confidence, stick with the game plan.”
Having covered the American Hockey League for a long time and seeing how players sometimes get disappointed when they’re passed over for a recall, I asked O’Dell if he was surprised Albert got the recall last week.
“No, he got (AHL) player of the week and he was a machine down there,” said O’Dell. “He was our go-to guy and when he got the call, he deserved it. He was playing awesome.”
That’s an easy thing to say and I’m not the least bit surprised by O’Dell’s reaction. He and Albert are obviously friends and Albert was the first guy I went to for reaction to when O’Dell was recalled to make his NHL debut in Buffalo. Albert spoke glowingly of what O’Dell was going to bring to the table. It’s clear both men support each other in their quest to become NHL regulars and a reminder that hanging your head when your name isn’t called by the big club isn’t the way to go about your business to earn a future call-up. Work harder and show you deserve it the next time one becomes available.
O’Dell had two goals and three points in 14 games (while averaging just over six minutes of ice time per game) during his first taste of NHL action and some of that came under the watch of Paul Maurice.
“He was here when I got here, he scored a goal in the first game and he had a couple points early on there,” said Maurice. “He knows what we’re trying to do, the systems aren’t new to him so we expect him to be as good as he can be.”
There’s no doubt the Canucks are reeling. They’ve lost 12 of 14 games overall and are coming off a game that saw them blow a 3-0 lead and give up seven — count ‘em — seven goals in the third period to the New York Islanders on Monday night.
The Canucks didn’t skate or make their players or head coach available on Wednesday but John Tortorella told reporters in Vancouver on Tuesday that Eddie Lack would be back in goal against the Jets, who will counter with Ondrej Pavelec.
Tortorella met reporters before the contest and said it was important for his team to focus on the positives from the first two periods of the Islanders’ game — where they out-chanced the Isles’ 14-4 — instead of the third-period collapse.
“We didn’t give them a sniff. That’s what we showed (on video) today, the things we did in those first couple periods. That’s what we need to focus on and bring into this game,” said Tortorella. “If you go the other way, you might as well shoot yourself in the head. It got that out of hand.”
As far as the white noise surrounding the team and his own future, Tortorella said his focus is on one thing and one thing only.
“I’m worried about the hockey club. That is my job, to coach this team and that’s what I’m focused on,” he said. “I live under a rock, always have for eight months of the year. We are focused as a group on staying together here and trying to get things done. All the other stuff around us is part of the business. I’m under a rock trying to be with this team and to find a way to get some consistency.”
Remember, it’s a national TSN game tonight and a 6:35 p.m. CT start. Adjust your schedules accordingly.
Here’s how I expect both teams to start:
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Evander Kane-Olli Jokinen-Dustin Byfuglien
Devin Setoguchi-Jim Slater-Blake Wheeler
Chris Thorburn-Eric O’Dell-Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Keaton Ellerby
Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)
Alex Burrows-Henrik Sedin-Nicklas Jensen
Chris Higgins-Ryan Kesler-Jannik Hansen
Darren Archibald-Shawn Matthias-David Booth
Tom Sestito-Jordan Schroeder-Yannick Weber (who will play point on power play)
Alex Edler-Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis-Chris Tanev
Ryan Stanton-Jason Garrison
Eddie Lack (Jacob Markstrom)