The Jets will start a 5-game road trip tomorrow (Thursday, April 8th) against the unpredictable Montreal Canadiens, for whom this match will be the second night of a back-to-back. The Canadiens play in Toronto tonight (Wednesday, April 7th) against a powerhouse Leafs squad. Winnipeg heads into the Bell Centre for the first time since March 6th.
Coming off of a fairly dominant win Monday against what is undeniably the worst squad in the division in the Ottawa Senators, the Jets hope to take that positive momentum and crush a shaky-at-best Canadiens crew, this time without Captain Blake Wheeler, who is out ‘indefinitely’ according to Head Coach Paul Maurice. Wheeler took an elbow to the head from the Senators’ Brady Tkachuk in the 3rd period of the aforementioned April 5th win, and did not travel with the team on the road trip out east.
Montreal has recently had some time to rest and regroup, having had all games postponed between March 21st and March 29th before finally getting back to action on the 30th with a big 4-0 win over Edmonton. Prior to their COVID-compelled break, the Canadiens were 5-4-2 in the month of March. Not a terrible record, but not a great one either. This is one of the reasons they sit on the cusp of not making the playoffs. Since their return, however, they are 3-1-0. A rested, reinvigorated Habs side could spell trouble for the rest of the Scotia North division, including the Jets.
Between now and the end of the season, the Jets have to play the Canadiens 3 more times, all of which will be played at the Bell Centre in Montreal. This puts 6 very important points up for grabs in that building. With only 17 games remaining, every point will be needed not just to push the Winnipeg Jets into the playoffs, but into the best possible seeding therein.
It’s important to remember that the playoff format this year is divisional. This means the Jets will face other teams from the all-Canadian Scotia North division for the first two rounds. Divisional seeding will determine with whom the Jets will clash in round one of the playoffs (1v4, 2v3), then the winners would face off against each other.
After the second round, the doors fly wide open, throwing the traditional “East vs West” concept completely out the window. Each remaining team’s end-of-the-season league placements will once again be very important in seeing the four squads reshuffled into another 1v4, 2v3 bracket.
I hope I’ve done enough here to show you that every single point is so precious from now until the end of the regular season for the Jets.
Here’s hoping the Jets can take the 4 points they need in these 2 games against the Habs. With Wheeler out of commission, the lineups will have to shuffle around a touch in order to get the job done. I, for one, have learned enough over the last half-decade to have faith in Maurice’s game plan, whatever that turns out to be.
Jets To Watch
Nikolaj Ehlers has 12 multi-point games under his belt this year, including 2 assists in Monday’s win against Ottawa, and he’s already only 5 points away from 300 in his NHL career. This kid is the real deal.
Kyle Connor continues to impress, leading the team in scoring with 18 markers this year. He also leads the squad in shots with 127 this year, and that doesn’t even count the attempts that were blocked or missed the net. His aggressive offensive play makes him a dream to watch as a Jets fan, and a bit of a nightmare if you’re a member of the opposition.
Mark Scheifele has been over 50% in the face-off circle in his last 6 games, in which time he’s won 56 of 83 draws (for a total average of 67.5%). Leading the club with 45 points (15G, 30A), leading all Jets forwards in Time On Ice with an average of 22 minutes and 17 seconds per game, tied for 1st amongst Jets forwards in blocked shots with 29, and averaging 1.15 points per game, Scheifele’s leadership will be more important than ever on this road trip without his best buddy and team captain, Wheeler.
Ehlers isn’t just 5 points away from 300 in his career, he also needs only 2 assists to move into 8th place in franchise history ahead of Andrew Ladd. Ladd currently holds that spot with 166.
Neal Pionk is 6 assists and just 5 penalty minutes away from 100 of each in his NHL career. Personal opinion: this guy is just going to keep getting better.
Scheifele can pass Dustin Byfuglien (294) for third all-time in franchise assists with only 2 more.
GO JETS GO!