The NHL welcomes back one of the cities it had previously moved out of when the Winnipeg Jets take to the ice for their first home game in fifteen years. It's been a rather raucous weekend in the 'Peg as Jets fans prepare for the biggest game in this generation's lives when the Montreal Canadiens visit MTS Centre for the first time in their history. While everyone in Winnipeg seems to think that this version of the Jets is the best thing to happen since sliced bread, I do need to take a moment to remind everyone of one fact:
This is a team that had 20 wins by December 31, 2010 last season, and finished the season with 34 wins. They were 20-15-6 at the end of 2010, and finished the season 34-36-12. They recorded 14 wins in 41 games from January 1, 2011 until the end of the season, and there have been no significant changes to the roster this season. Are we to expect that these Jets will be world-beaters?
The Thrashers went 2-2 last season against Montreal. Their first win came on November 26, 2010 as the Thrashers shut out the Habs to improve to 11-9-3 on the season. Their second win was a 4-3 overtime victory on January 2, 2011 that pushed the Thrashers' record to 21-15-6 on the season. From that point on, injuries and poor play struck this team in a big way.
The Canadiens took the final two games of the four-game season series by 3-1 scores. The March 1, 2011 saw the Thrashers win only five games since their January 2 victory as they stood with a record of 26-27-11 after the March 1 loss. The March 29 game showed that the Thrashers were still playing .500 hockey in March as their record jumped to 32-32-12, but they had a 6-5-1 record in March.
So what do we expect from this version of the Jets? For this year, I'm going to say that .500 hockey should be expected. The Southeast is starting to get stronger as the other four teams have all improved, but the Jets have a significant advantage in the hometown crowd if they can use it. If the Jets can finish above .500, call it a victory for a franchise that really did nothing more than patch holes over the summer.
As for tonight, Montreal is coming in after being shut out by Toronto on Thursday night, so they'll probably want to get started quickly in terms of finding the back of the net. The Jets will want to play the same kind of game as Toronto in keeping Montreal's speedy forwards to the outside. Solid goaltending combined with a bend-but-don't-break defensive effort should give the Jets a great chance to win this game.
Offensively, the Jets have to pepper Carey Price and get him moving in his crease. Price is a far better goaltender than a lot of people give him credit for, and getting him moving is the best way to get pucks behind him. He squares to shooters very well, and rarely gives up a rebound that can hurt him. We'll see how this one goes, but I'm calling a close game with a Montreal victory.
The biggest question surrounding the franchise is who will score the first goal as Jet? My money is on Blake Wheeler. I'm not sure why, but I'm thinking it will come from an unlikely source rather than one of the big guns like Byfuglien, Kane, or Scheifele. Wheeler looks like he could be a decent gun for the Jets, so here's hoping he gets this franchise off on the right foot tonight.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!