Both of tonight's teams are eager to get back in the playoff hunt. Jim Slater of the Winnipeg Jets slumps against the boards after colliding with Brandon Sutter of the Carolina Hurricanes at the MTS Centre on October 22, 2011 in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Jets (8-9-4) make their first appearance under that name tonight at the RBC Center as the Carolina Hurricanes (8-11-4) will be looking to claw their way up and out of the Eastern Conference cellar. The Jets played the Canes down in Charlotte during the pre-season back in September.
In the clubs' last outings Wednesday night, they each picked up a single point; the Jets lost in OT to the Capitals in Washington, while the Canes got an early 2-0 lead, only to go down in the shootout vs the Montreal Canadiens in front of the home crowd.
Since "hitting rock bottom" in the 4-0 loss to Montreal 9 days ago, the Hurricanes are 2-1-1, with a goal differential of 10 for and 8 against in those four games. They'll need to continue at that pace at a bare minimum to make the playoffs this season. Taking 5 of every 8 points through the remainder of the season would put them at 94 points in April, which might not be enough.
The Jets and Canes are tied at 20 points in the standings, but with two games in hand, the Jets are ranked 13th and the Canes at 14th in the Eastern Conference. The 8th place New York Rangers have 23 points and the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers have 27 points.
We learned this morning that Jay Harrison is out day-to-day with an upper body concern, so Derek Joslin will be in the line up tonight, making only his 5th appearance this season. Joni Pitkanen has returned to skating with the team, and though he's still unavailable tonight, he is a possibility for the game in Ottawa on Sunday. The minute-munching Finn has missed 7 games with the injury to his foot. The Canes are 3-3-1 in that span.
More on the lines and practice notes, stats ,etc after the jump.
The Hurricanes are staying with the lines as we've seen them lately, with Eric Staal centering Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu. Here's the rest - though I've just subbed out Joslin for Harrison, as the D-pairings are not confirmed.
For the defense:
Maurice said yesterday that he planned to use Brian Boucher for at least one of these next three games, but Cam Ward will get the nod tonight. Only the Preds' Pekka Rinne, with one more game on his stat line, has faced more shots and made more saves than Ward this season. Here's Ward on the season and vs the Thrashers/Jets in his career.
|2011 - 12 Cam Ward||19||1083||8||8||3||56||3.10||600||544||.907||1|
|Ward : Career vs Atlanta/Winnipeg||31||1838||19||8||3||90||2.94||908||818||.901||1|
Finally, I've got Maurice's audio [5 minutes] from practice today, answering several questions about his lineup and the team's season, mostly from the Winnipeg media.
Jets #1 Goalie Ondrej Pavelec will get his first break after starting 13 straight games for Coach Claude Noel. Back-up Chris Mason is just coming off the IR, and will make his first start since October 24th when he gave up 2 PPG on 17 shots in a loss to the New York Rangers. Mason's only win this season came when he relieved Pavelec early in the game vs the Hurricanes in Winnipeg Oct. 22.
Mason has a career record vs the Canes that is worth noting:
|2011 - 12 Chris Mason||4||179||1||2||8||2.68||75||67||.893||0|
|Mason: Career vs Hurricanes||6||355||3||2||1||8||1.36||172||164||..953||1|
The Jets have had more than their share of key injuries this far into the season. Eric Fehr, acquired in a trade with the Caps over the summer will be playing just his third game as a Jet.
The defensive corps has been hard hit. Ron Hainsey is a game time decision - he returned to the Jets lineup on Wednesday having been out for the month prior with a "UBI". Tobias Enstrom is out for a while more with a broken collar bone. Other blueliners that are out include Randy Jones, Derek Meech and Brett Festerling ,
Defenseman Zach Bogosian avoided suspension for a questionable hit in DC Wednesday and will play.
Look for these forward lines:
The Jets will head to Boston after tonight's game for the second half of a road trip back to back Saturday night vs the Bruins at TD Garden.
Game Day links
This one is particularly interesting in terms to young highly-skilled player finding himself relegated to a less offensive role by his coach (in this case it's Burmistrov and Noel): Burmistrov, Staal trying to find their games as Jets meet Canes - The Globe and Mail
"There’s been an adjustment for Staal in finding the right people to play with him," Maurice said. "Then the offensive part of it did become an issue for him and how he played the game. And to his credit I think he pulled back and did the right thing."
This story got a lot of Canes fans gnashing their teeth this morning: Canes seem to be back on track - NewsObserver.com
"If I was 17, 18 or 19 and the coach said you play better defense and can get better offense, I would say no, that's not what's going to happen," forward Jussi Jokinen said. "But I've been around long enough to understand that's exactly what happens and that's what we've been able to do. In this league you have to keep the other team to two goals or less to win constantly."
An update yesterday re Pitkanen at practice, may play Sunday - Canes Now
"What we're talking about now is partners," Maurice said. "I guess when you're thinking aloud, if the two guys who hit a post in the shootout puts it in and you're 3-0, would you make changes? But you didn't so now you're making changes based on events that happened in the game. We're still talking about it."
Full Media Notes [39 page .pdf]
The Jets have battled with discipline this season surrendering a League-high 103 power plays to their opposition. Winnipeg has killed off 23 of their past 25 shorthanded situations dating back to Nov. 10 vs. FLA (2-5 L). CAR career point-per-game players vs. WPG: Jeff Skinner - nine points (3g, 6a) in seven games; Eric Staal - 50 pts (20g, 30a) in 49 games. Cam Ward is 19-8-3, with a 2.93 GAA and one shutout in 31 career appearances against the Winnipeg franchise. Brian Boucher is 4- 6-3 with a 2.59 GAA in 13 games. Ondrej Pavelec is 3-5-2, with a 4.03 GAA in 11 career appearances against Carolina. Chris Mason is 3-2-1, with a 1.36 GAA and one shutout in six games.
Planning your evening
The puck drops at 7pm and will be broadcast by Fox Sports and on the radio at 99.9. We should have our open thread live blog ready to roll around 6:30 - stop by for comments from press row.