It’s been a long time since the Los Angeles Kings last played in Winnipeg. Tonight, they’ll look to make their return to Winnipeg a victorious one when they take on the new Jets, as they face the franchise for the first time since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in the summer.
This is a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2006-2007 season, and the majority of that team is now gone. Atlanta wasn’t exactly a powerhouse for their last few seasons, and after not making any major off-season acqusitions (other than getting a team), Winnipeg certainly isn’t either, but they are a solid team, especially at home.
After a slow start to the season, the Jets have been rolling lately, holding a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games and are coming off of a 4-1 win in Colorado on Monday, snapping the Avalanche’s streak of eight consecutive home games won, and although that win may have come on the road, most of the Jets’ success has come at home. Winnipeg has a 12-6-1 home record, compared to their 5-8-4 road record, and with the incredible atmosphere that the fans provide in Winnipeg, it’s not a stretch to think that the fans have played in big part in the Jets’ home success. Overall, the Jets hold a 17-14-5 record through 36 games this season, a record awfully similar to the 18-14-5 record held by the Kings, and Winnipeg’s 39 points have them eighth in the Eastern Conference, just inside the playoff picture at the moment.
Yes, seeking a third consecutive win, a 6-1-1 record in their last eight games, a 5-0-1 record in their last six and a 4-0-1 record under Darryl Sutter, the Kings will have to do it against the Jets. The Jets, who are averaging 2.75 goals per game, ranking their offense 12th in the NHL, but will be matched up with a stingy Kings defense, giving up an average of only 2.3 goals against per game, ranking their defense sixth in the league. On offense, the Kings still rank last in the NHL, scoring an average of just 2.14 goals per game, and will match up with a Jets defense that is in a three-way tie with the Dallas Stars and the New Jersey Devils for 17th in the NHL, allowing an average of 2.86 goals against per game. Hey, that’s almost three goals against per game! Will the Kings be able to reach the three-goal mark in this one for the second time in three games, but also just the second time in 17 games?
On special teams, the Winnipeg power-play is converting on 17.8% of their opportunities, tying their power-play with the Ottawa Senators for 14th in the NHL. They should be in tough against the Kings’ fifth-ranked penalty kill, a penalty kill that is killing off 87.8% of their penalties and has been amazing lately, killing off 67 of their last 70 penalties. At the same time, the Kings have had some trouble with taking too many penalties lately, which, despite their outstanding penalty kill, is a trend they’d like to stop. The Kings power-play is an absolutely nightmare right now, but the problem is, it’s been a nightmare for the Kings, not opposing teams. Now just converting on 14.7% of their opportunities and coming off of an 0-for-4 against the league’s 27th-ranked penalty kill in Chicago, the Kings power-play has free-fallen to 23rd in the NHL, and will look to get back to their early-season form with the man-advantage against the Jets, who are killing off 82.5% of their penalties, ranking their penalty kill 14th in the NHL.
Leading the way offensively for the Jets is Evander Kane, the third-year forward who’s having an excellent breakout season, as well as Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov and Alexander Burmistrov. Behind them are the likes of Kyle Wellwood (who’s quietly having a very productive season in Winnipeg, by his standards), Jim Slater, Tanner Glass, Tim Stapleton (who scored the final goal in Thrashers history), Eric Fehr, Antti Miettinen, Chris Thorburn, and the just-recalled Patrice Cormier. Two of them will be scratches, one of them will likely be Little, who has been out since suffering an injury to his foot on December 17th, which is a big loss up front for the Jets, and Jim Slater could be the other, as he is considered questionable with an undisclosed injury. The injuries, obviously, played a big factor in the decision to recall Cormier, who will make his Jets debut as he hasn’t played in the NHL since suffering a concussion with the Thrashers last season.
On defense, the Thrashers are led by the productive duo of Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien, and behind them are Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Mark Stuart and Mark Flood. One of them will be a scratch, probably Byfuglien, who’s listed as doubtful with a lower-body injury, which is a big loss for the Jets. Derek Meech and former King Randy Jones (who we all have such, uhh, fond memories of…) are on the injured reserve.
In goal, it’s expected to be Ondrej Pavelec, who is 13-12-5 with three shutouts on the season to go along with a 2.85 GAA and a .911 Sv%, but it could also be Chris Mason, who has a record of 4-2-0 with no shutouts on the season to go along with a 2.22 GAA and a .913 Sv%.
For the Kings, there aren’t expected to be any changes in the lineup, meaning it will remain Anze Kopitar between Brad Richardson and Dustin Brown, Mike Richards between Andrei Loktionov and Trevor Lewis, Jarret Stoll between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, and Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter. Kevin Westgarth is expected to be a healthy scratch.
On defense, it’s expected to remain Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, Jack Johnson with Matt Greene, and with Alec Martinez and Davis Drewiske as the healthy scratches.
In goal, Jonathan Quick has been excellent in two of his last three games and is coming off of an outstanding performance in the 2-0 win in Chicago yesterday where he made 38 saves for the shutout (his league-leading fifth shutout of the season). However, Quick has made eight straight starts, as well as 31 starts in 37 games this season, and if he plays in Winnipeg tonight, it would be the second time in as many weeks that he started both ends of a back-to-back set of games with a flight in between. So, will Darryl Sutter turn to Jonathan Bernier to make his first start under him, as well as his first since Terry Murray’s last game on December 10th, a 2-1 regulation loss at home to the Dallas Stars? Bernier hasn’t gotten a ton of work in this season because of how well Quick has played this year, with just six starts in 37 games, and has watched Quick start the last eight games. Lately, Bernier has done a nice job of performing well despite limited playing time, though, giving up just two goals in each of his last three starts. However, he’s lost his last two starts because his team has only scored one goal in each of them. If Bernier does get the start, hopefully the Kings finally provide him with some support on offense, and hopefully they play the same type of inspired hockey that they’ve since Sutter took over, not the tentative game that they sometimes play without Quick in net when Terry Murray was still here. Or the type of tentative games that they sometimes played under Murray no matter who was in net.
Well, the Kings hope to finish off their mini two-game road trip with a perfect record, as well as finish the fathers road trip a perfect record with their dads in attendance. Will they be able to, or will the Jets put a halt to the Kings’ recent momentum?