The Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche meet for the second time this season on Thursday night at MTS Centre and both teams are 2-3 in their past five, so these points are definitely at a premium for both Central Division rivals.
The Jets gave up a pair of third period goals in a 3-2 loss to the Avs at the Pepsi Center in late October, but that’s when they were in the midst of an red-hot start under new head coach Patrick Roy. Since the 12-1 start, the Avalanche are playing .500 hockey and have come back to earth a bit.
Colorado has lost three of their past four and were blown out 8-2 by the Edmonton Oilers, so you can expect them to be a little ornery in this one.
The Jets (14-14-4) know the Avalanche (20-9) play a more wide open style than the St. Louis Blues do, but it’s important for the Jets to not get into a run-and-gun style of game against their speedy opponent.
Here are five things to look for tonight:
1) Can the Jets shake off Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Blues?
As I wrote in my game analysis column, the Jets played the way they need to in order to achieve long-term success in the Western Conference but weren’t rewarded for their effort. The key for the Jets is to not be demoralized by the bad goal and the bad bounce that cost them. Playing with structure and being committed to the system is the only way the Jets can start moving up the standings in the Central Division.
2) First chance to see 1st overall pick live as a pro
Nathan MacKinnon’s had a strong start after being the top pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He started on the third line but is earning the trust of Roy and now getting Top-6 minutes. I had an opportunity to watch him play twice at the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon and he’s a treat to watch. He’s an explosive skater with a strong work ethic. Watch him closely tonight, he’s going to be a really good player. A natural C, it looks like he’ll move to RW on the top line, at least to start the game.
3) Jets top line must lead offence
The Jets have been getting some secondary scoring of late and that’s important, but at the end of the day, this is the type of game where the top trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler must take charge. Little snapped an eight-game slump on Tuesday, so let’s see if it starts a hot streak for the Jets’ top line.
4) How will Pavelec play?
It’s obvious the Alexander Steen goal was a softie, but Pavelec was simply the recipient of a tough break on the second one as Kevin Shattenkirk’s slapper banked off the stick of Bryan Little and may have hit something else along the way before making its way to the back of the net as well. Pavelec is likely to face a barrage of shots and he’ll need to be sharp to keep his team in the game.
5) Duchene’s push for Team Canada?
One of the keys to the strong start for the Avalanche is forward Matt Duchene, who was chosen was pick ahead of Jets winger Evander Kane (who is sidelined with a lower-body injury) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Duchene, who has 12 goals and 21 points in 26 games this season, wants to get to Sochi and having success against a division rival is another way to stay on the radar. Duchene has no goals in seven games since returning from an oblique injury and you know he’s looking to end that drought.
No lineup changes for the Jets. Here’s how we expect both teams to start:
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
Ondrej Pavelec (Al Monotya)
Ryan O’ReillyMatt Duchene-Nathan MacKinnon
Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-PA Parenteau
Jamie McGinn–John Mitchell-Max Talbot
Cody McLeod-Marc-Andre Cliche-Patrick Bordeleau
Nate Guenin-Erik Johnson
Andre Benoit-Cory Sarich
Tyson Barrie-Nick Holden
Semyon Varlamov (J-S Giguere)