Preview: Winnipeg Jets (20-22-3) @ Los Angeles Kings (21-17-4)
Hey, so. Here’s a secret, from a Central division fan who has to see Winnipeg a whole bunch of times, whether I like it or not: the Jets are not that great, guys.
Every year they seem poised to break out and really make some noise in the league, and every year they fall flat. They’re only three points behind the Kings for the last wild card spot in the West, but I have a hard time actually envisioning them as a threat. They’re 5-5 in their last ten games, and have put up some real stinkers lately, including a 7-4 loss against Montreal, a 6-2 drubbing by the equally dismal Islanders, and last night’s 4-3 loss against the Coyotes, where they allowed four goals in a ten-minute stretch in the first period, which were all Arizona needed for the win.
Coach Paul Maurice put his team on blast after that loss to Montreal, and maybe they took some of his lesson to heart -- they did, after all, try to come back against the Coyotes. But it hasn’t been enough, when they need to gain critical points on this west coast swing if they want any hope of getting back in the playoffs picture.
There have been some bright spots, but injuries to key players and inconsistent goaltending have held the Jets back. Michael Hutchinson -- who certainly seemed like if not necessarily the goalie of the future, then the goalie of “right now” -- has been dreadful, with just four wins in 13 starts and a goals against average of 3.30 (that’s good for 50th out of 51 goalies playing more than 10 games this season). Connor Hellebuyck -- who really is supposed to be the goalie of the future for the Jets -- has been marginally better, coming into the 31st spot with a GAA of 2.73. (He’s surrounded on either side of the rankings by Corey Schneider, playing as best he can on a mediocre Devils team, and Ben Bishop.)
Still, Hellebuyck’s been pulled in the last two games. He allowed three goals on six shots against Arizona and was pulled after ten minutes, and the story wasn’t much different against Montreal. Hellebuyck gave up three goals on seven shots to the Canadiens and was yanked after 14 minutes.
While the plan was probably to start Hutchinson tonight, it remains to be seen what the Jets will actually do, since he unexpectedly found himself playing almost the whole game in Arizona. Despite his dismal numbers, I’ve seen Hutchinson play his fair share of lights-out games against much better teams than the Jets, so if he plays, it’s fully possible he plays out of his mind.
Or he gets lit up for six goals. Who knows.
The Kings have already chased one goalie this week, facilitating Jake Allen’s early exit on Thursday night. If their offense continues to click, it would be a delight to see whoever the Jets put in net get chased, too. It’s entirely possible.
The game against the Blues was a complete 60-minute effort, something the Kings have struggled to do all this season. Players other than Jeff Carter are scoring, even. (Even if he is the one setting them up with sweet, sweet passes.) It’s like this team does have more than one forward line!
Even Jake Muzzin redeemed himself, not only with a strong offensive outburst -- I honestly didn’t think “Jake Muzzin Hat Trick Watch” was something I was going to have to be concerned about, coming into that game -- but with strong defensive play, as well. He and Alec Martinez were strong all night, really wiping away the bad look of the past several games.
If the Kings can replicate what they did against St. Louis -- another big, physical team, just like the Jets -- this game could be another slam dunk.
Unless a goalie turns into Fake Carey Price overnight.
Projected Line Combinations
Los Angeles Kings
Gaborik - Kopitar - Lewis
Pearson - Carter - Brown
Clifford - Dowd - Setoguchi
King - Shore - Nolan
Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - Martinez
McNabb - Greene
Perreault - Little - Wheeler
Ehlers - Scheifele - Stafford
Matthias - Lowry - Armia
Copp - Petan - Thorburn
Morrissey - Byfuglien
Enstrom - Trouba
Stuart - Postma
Opposing Preview: Arctic Ice Time