TAMPA — Al Montoya is between the pipes, Michael Frolik is back in and Evander Kane is not ready just yet as the Winnipeg Jets close out a six-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Jets are 3-2 to this point and as I wrote in a column before the trip started, 5-1 or 4-2 would be a record the Jets would be able to live with.
The latter option remains, but if they lose and fall to 3-3, it’s going to be a disappointment for the Jets, something captain Andrew Ladd, defenceman Mark Stuart and head coach Claude Noel all acknowledged after Friday’s practice.
It’s going to be interesting to see which Jets group we see tonight, the one that skated well against the New York Rangers in a 5-2 win of the disorganized and occasionally disinterest bunch that was beaten 5-2 by the Florida Panthers.
The decision to start Montoya was mildly surprising to me, not because I think he won’t play well but rather that Noel has often given Ondrej Pavelec the chance to bounce back from below-average performances, like Thursday.
However, I understand why Noel would make the decision.
For one, it should have his players on attention and two, the Jets have three divisional games at home next week, so it figures that Pavelec will get all three of those (provided he plays well) and then Montoya will likely play the back end of the two remaining back-to-back games this month.
The Jets said all the right things in the aftermath of Thursday’s loss, but let’s see if they can back up their talk with action against a Lightning team that is 17-10-1 this season, despite missing Steven Stamkos for the past 12 games with a broken tibia.
As I wrote, the Jets’ big guns were firing blanks — outside of Andrew Ladd’s goal — so they will be under fire to produce this evening. The Jets (13-13-4) had too many passengers and they can’t afford that to happen tonight if they want to avoid falling below .500.
The Lightning have been ravaged by injuries, but their organizational depth has come through and as head coach Jon Cooper pointed out, Ben Bishop stops a lot of pucks.
Well, Bishop isn’t starting so let’s see what the Jets do against backup Anders Lindback, who has struggled this season (2-5, 3.26 GAA, .876 save percentage).
What the Lightning have done under Cooper, who has done an outstanding job.
Cooper said the experience he gained last season after taking over from Guy Boucher really helped him during his first full season.
If you look at the Bolts roster, they might be as talented as they’ve been in the past, but they’ve bought in — a fact made easier by having so many guys who played for Cooper in the minors — but the buy-in has also come from the veterans, including Marty St. Louis, who is still a point-per-game player.
Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Saturday night (the Lightning didn’t skate this morning so their lines/D-pairs might change a bit. They’ll dress 7 D again).
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Chris Thorburn-Olli Jokinen-Devin Setoguchi
Matt Halischuk-Mark Scheifele-Michael Frolik
James Wright-John Albert-Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart-Keaton Ellerby
Grant Clitsome-Jacob Trouba
Al Monotya (Ondrej Pavelec)
Alex Killorn-Valtteri Filppula-Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Martin St. Louis
J.T Brown-Nate Thompson-Teddy Purcell
Dana Tyrell-B.J. Crombeen
Matt Carle-Radko Gudas
Eric Brewer-Sami Salo
Mark Barbeiro-Andrej Sustr/Matt Taormina
Anders Lindback (Ben Bishop)