|For the Winnipeg Jets, to say the last six months have been a whirlwind would be understating the obvious. At the end of the 2010-11 regular season, the then-Atlanta Thrashers had missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season despite having a strong start to their campaign. The end of the season signaled the beginning of a period of change for the club, starting with the franchise’s immediate future in Atlanta. |
Several local suitors were reportedly interested in keeping the team in Atlanta, but eventually the club was sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, one of the largest sports entertainment companies in North America. Chairman Mark Chipman spearheaded the effort to bring NHL hockey back to Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city that lost its original team 15 years ago. In the time since, Winnipeg hosted one of minor hockey’s most successful franchises (the Manitoba Moose) and built one of the finest facilities in the league, the MTS Centre.
The Jets hired former Blue Jackets assistant coach Claude Noel to be their full-time head coach, and just a few days later selected Mark Scheifele with the No. 7 overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Captain Andrew Ladd soon followed with a new five-year contract extension, and the wheels were in motion once again in Winnipeg. The Jets have a young, talented team that can best be described as a blend of several different elements.
Up front, they are led by Ladd and veterans such as Blake Wheeler, Nik Antropov, Bryan Little and Kyle Wellwood in the top six. Young players like Evander Kane and the dynamic Alexander Burmistrov give the Jets an intriguing mix at the forward position, and they are complemented by an experienced group in the bottom six. Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn are sturdy checking-line players that have solidified the lower half of Noel’s lineup, and have received a surprising offensive contribution from free-agent signee Tanner Glass.
Dustin Byfuglien is the Jets’ unquestioned cornerstone on defense. Former GM Rick Dudley acquired the hulking blue-liner the summer after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and it has proven to be one of the better adds for the franchise in recent years. The Jets definitely have a skill-over-grit defense, with Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom playing important roles on Winnipeg’s back end. The defense is battered with injuries at the moment, as Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones, Derek Meech and Enstrom are on the IR. Veteran Mark Stuart plays the sandpaper role on defense for the Jets, playing most of his minutes alongside Johnny Oduya.
In goal, the Jets are set with up-and-comer Ondrej Pavelec, who had an impressive breakout season a year ago. He has struggled a bit this season, but Winnipeg recently activated backup Chris Mason off the IR in case a change in goaltenders needs to be made.
| || || |
|Prospal (5) ||Three tied (5) |
|Nash, Prospal (8) ||Antropov (9) |
|Prospal (13) ||Antropov (12) |
|Dorsett (38) ||Byfuglien (32) |
|MacKenzie (+4) ||Four tied (+2) |
|Mason (2-11-1) |
|Crawford (4-6-3) |
|Mason (3.88) ||Crawford (3.45) |
|Mason (.866) ||Crawford (.890) || |
|• Tonight’s game is the first-ever matchup between the Blue Jackets and the Winnipeg Jets. Columbus won the only meeting last year against the Atlanta Thrashers, a 3-0 win at Philips Arena on Nov. 4. Columbus is 8-5-0 all-time against the former Thrashers, including a 4-2-0 mark at home. The Blue Jackets have won four-straight in the series, including the most recent meeting at Nationwide Arena on Mar. 11, 2010 (2-1). |
• Grant Clitsome’s game is coming around of late. He scored twice against the Blackhawks for the first two-goal game of his NHL career. He scored a goal Nov. 5 at Philadelphia to give him goals in back-to-back games for the second time in his NHL career (Jan. 14-15, 2011). He has played in 20-or-more minutes in 10 of 14 games this season.
• Vinny Prospal has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jackets in the first 15 games. He has points in 10 of the 15 games this season after notching a pair of assists Thursday against Chicago. He has points in back-to-back games to push his season totals to 5-8-13 in 15 games, which ranks tops on the club in points.
• Derek MacKenzie’s nickname might soon be “The Plus.” MacKenzie played his first full NHL season in 2010-11, collecting 9-14-23 and was +14 in 63 games. He set career highs in all of those categories and set the club record for plus/minus rating among forwards (David Vyborny, +12 in 2002-03). In 14 of 15 games this season, he has had a plus or even rating and leads the club with a +4 rating.
• Mark Letestu made his Blue Jackets debut Thursday against Chicago and scored his first goal with the club in the third period. He also had two shots, three hits and two takeaways in 16:36 of ice time. The goal was his first in 11 games as he last scored Apr. 10, 2011 at Atlanta with Pittsburgh.