Jets face Blues for third time, land Winter Classic

- December 10th, 2013

The Winnipeg Jets find themselves with an important date with a Central Division powerhouse, but much of the discussion following Tuesday’s morning skate surrounded the report that suggested the Jets had landed the 2016 Heritage Classic outdoor game.

Reaction from players can be found in my web story at www.winnipegsun.com.

At the board of governors meetings in California on Tuesday afternoon, NHL commish Gary Bettman confirmed the Jets had landed an outdoor game but noted there is nothing concrete to report at this time.

“We had a discussion with Mark Chipman where we said we’d like to have an outdoor game in Winnipeg, Heritage Classic, and Mark said that’s great,” Bettman told reporters in Pebble Beach, Calif. “We said we’re not ready to make any announcements, and what is your preference on dates? He gave us a preference of ’16, but there’s no formal agreement, announcement or anything else.

“It’s still a work of progress, but at some point in the next few years, perhaps ’16, perhaps not, we’ll have an outdoor game in Winnipeg.”

If you’re surprised that Bettman didn’t announce the site of the 2016 Heritage Classic before announcing where the 2015 event might be held, you haven’t been paying attention.

And if you’re surprised that the Jets aren’t making someone from the organization available to discuss what it means for the organization before the NHL makes an official announcement, you’ve forgotten the way Jets governor and co-owner Mark Chipman operates.

Who would you like to see the Jets face in the Heritage Classic?

Let’s get that discussion going here.

Send your choices in and give me a reason why.

Including the 2014 Heritage Classic, featuring the Vancouver Canucks hosting the Ottawa Senators on Mar. 2, the three events have featured all-Canadian match-ups.

While there’s been some talk the Jets should face their nearest geographical rival, the Minnesota Wild, don’t forget that organization is trying to secure an outdoor game of their own in the next couple of years (preferably the Winter Classic).

I’ll be surprised if the NHL abandons the all-Canadian match-up for when the Jets host the event. It’s an event that attracts a big national TV audience in Canada, so I’d expect the game to feature a Canadian club.

With the Jets likely celebrating their fifth anniversary season, wouldn’t it make sense to bring in the Montreal Canadiens, the team the Jets faced in their first game back in the NHL?

That’s a topic that will be discussed more at a later date.

For now, let’s turn our attention back to the game at hand.

The Jets and Blues have met twice this season, with the Jets earning a 4-3 shootout victory on Oct. 18 in a game that saw them erase a 3-1 third-period deficit, and the Blues responding with a 3-2 win at Scottrade Center on Oct. 29.

The Blues haven’t forgotten the last visit to Winnipeg.

“(The Jets) are aptly named because they’ve got a lot of speed. Their forwards can fly down the wings and their defencemen are always joining (the rush),” said Blues captain David Backes. “We’ve got to get our skating legs on and make sure that we’re not only starting fast but committed to a team game for 60 minutes. We had a 3-1 lead in here last time we played here and they won in a shootout.

“That left a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth and just shows us that 57, 58 minutes isn’t enough. We need a full 60.”

That sour taste has a lot to do with the fact the Jets are the only team in the Central Division to beat the Blues at all this season, as St. Louis is 9-0-1 against their rivals to date. For the sake of comparison, the Jets are 3-9-2 against the Central.

If that trend doesn’t end soon, the Jets will find themselves in big trouble.

It will be interesting to see how the Jets respond after returning home from a two-week road trip that saw them go 4-2 against Eastern Conference opponents.

The first game back after a long trip is often a letdown game for the home team, but the Jets were 6-2 last season in the first game back of a road trip of two or more games.

“It doesn’t matter, home or road, these are games that we need to win,” said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. “There’s a little bit too much talk of the road and coming home and that stuff. This is a tough team and you’ve got to play them tough all the time.”

The Blues, meanwhile, have been struggling out of the gates of late, outscored to the tune of 9-1 during the first period during their past four games.

“It’s inevitable that you’re not going to have a fairytale season of 82 games and roll through the playoffs and just give you the Cup and life goes on, that’s just not realistic,” said Backes. “These are some things we can control, change and try to cut them off before they become a disease. We’ve had some issues to start games and we have to find ways to come out a little harder.”

Does that make it important for the Jets to try and get a jump on their opponent?

“The fact they’ve hit a bump in the road just makes it more ornery for them,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “We’re going to have to be ready to play.”

Noel said he’d be paying attention to the Blues’ top trio of Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen but admitted he wasn’t much of a straight match-up guy, so that likely means he’ll be splitting the “shadowing” time between the Bryan Little and Olli Jokinen lines against them.

Are there many surprises when teams get ready for their third meeting of the season?

“What surprises you about Winnipeg is their size,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “It’s hard to evaluate that on tape or TV but they’re big and they’re fast. These being two competitive games against them, they’ve been great to coach in and we’re expecting the same today. They’ve got a lot of good forwards with great speed. Our job is to make sure they don’t get wound up.”

Hitchcock was asked about the process of convincing his team the importance of playing a strong checking game — something Noel has been working to institute himself since becoming the Jets’ head coach.

“Putting it there is okay, it’s easy to do. Keeping it there is very, very difficult,” said Hitchcock, who was one of Noel’s coaching mentors. “It’s a very difficult buy-in. The best teams in the world, the best teams in the world all have that mindset. They’re willing to check for chances. What we ask of our team is a difficult buy-in but it’s no different from what Boston wants or Chicago wants, LA. It’s a difficult buy-in because you have to give the puck up to get it back and that’s a hard sell to a lot of players.

“I know what Claude is trying to do and I read what he says, I get where he is trying to go. It’s the right place but it is a challenge. It’s a daily fight of who wins the battle. Does the coach win or do the players win. It’s not easy to get your team to play the right way all the time.”

Hitchcock was asked if he knew more about Noel or if Noel knew more about him?

“That’s a good question,” said Hitchcock. “I know he’s goofy and he’s out there, but he’s like any other good coach. He has a way of getting his message across. He’s got a really good record, he’s had success at every level he’s coached at, he’s made teams better and that’s what a good coach is. For me, we probably go at it a different way but we both want to go to the same place.”

Ondrej Pavelec is back in net for the Jets after Al Montoya made 28 saves in the 2-1 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Blues counter with Brian Elliott.

Based on the morning skate, the Jets will dress the same lineup and defence pairings as they did against the Lightning.

The Blues will insert F Adam Cracknell for Magnus Paajarvi.

Here’s how I expect the two teams to start on Tuesday:

Jets

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
Grant Clitsome-Jacob Trouba
Mark Stuart-Keaton Ellerby

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

Blues

Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Derek Roy-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Adam Cracknell

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barrett Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott (Jaroslav Halak)

 

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