The Winnipeg Jets fly into Columbus for a Tuesday night battle sitting one point out of a wild card berth in the Western Conference as we reach the quarter mark of the NHL season. Still looking for their first postseason appearance since moving to Winnipeg (and the franchise’s first since the Atlanta Thrashers made the playoffs in 2007), the Jets have hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season and are now 1-3-1 in their last five games.
Blake Wheeler is having a decent start to the season with 14 points but he hasn't had much company offensively, a major reason the Jets are ranked 28th in the NHL in goal-scoring. Evander Kane only has two goals and six points in 14 games, well below the pace at which he is expected to produce. Dustin Byfuglien, always among the scoring leaders for defenseman, has three goals and seven points in 22 games.
Despite his 7-8-3 record, Ondrej Pavelec is having one of his better seasons to this point. Pavelec’s numbers to this point of the season are the best of his career, with a save percentage of .917 and a goals-against average of 2.29.
The Jets are 6-3-2 against Eastern Conference teams this season, not to mention an NHL-best 5-0-2 against the Metropolitan Division.
The Jets and Blue Jackets split their two meetings last season, but the Jan. 11 tilt at MTS Centre went to Columbus by a 6-3 final. Mark Letestu and Boone Jenner each scored twice, with Letestu scoring a shorthanded goal and Jenner finishing on a penalty shot. The Jets carried a 1-0 lead into the second period, when the Blue Jackets responded with four goals of their own. Curtis McElhinney made 28 saves to earn the win for Columbus. Pavelec took the loss in what was, in mid-January, already his 34th start of the season.
Blake Wheeler has always had offensive talent, and in the past two seasons he has harnessed it. The former No. 5 overall pick only cracked the 20-goal plateau once in his first four seasons, but turned a corner during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, when he put up 19 goals and 41 points in 48 games and established himself as one of the game’s top power forwards. And after a slow start last season, Wheeler responded with late-season consistency to finish the year with 28 goals and 69 points. He is the Jets’ offensive leader again this year, and at 6-foot-5 and 225 lbs., he’s a menace of a match-up coming down the wing.
Ryan Johansen has seven points in his last five games, though all seven points came in two contests. His goal against the Bruins on Friday night was his first tally in 13 games, but Johansen has still put up points, with 12 assists during that span. It’s no surprise that Nick Foligno is having the offensive season that he’s having, or that Boone Jenner has been an instant spark in the lineup. Johansen has the ability to make the players around him better, and he’s done that. The Blue Jackets need him to start carrying more of the goal-scoring load as well, and Friday’s breakaway goal indicates he’s ready to do so.
Bobrovsky vs. Pavelec
Both teams need a win, and for both organizations, the recipe heavily involves their starting goaltender. The Blue Jackets had better success with that last season, but both goaltenders are still workhorses for their respective clubs. Bobrovsky started 58 games for the Jackets last season, and Pavelec started 57. Bobrovsky has one win in his past six starts and has surrendered three or more goals in five of them. Pavelec has played above his career stats, but he too has only one win in his past seven appearances. Both goaltenders can control the game, and between two teams that have struggled to score consistently, one save can be the difference.