Winnipeg's blueline is missing three regulars, including two defensemen (Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba) who averaged better than 22 minutes a night for the team last season. The Jets are working with two rookie defensemen in Josh Morrissey and Julian Melchiori and two more who played their 100th game in the league last season in Ben Chiarot and Paul Postma.
For Washington, a key to tonight's game is to get in on the forecheck and put some pressure on the young and inexperienced Jets defense, trying to force them into mistakes that can lead to Caps scoring chances.
"The more you can put them under duress, the better it's going to be for us," says caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "And whatever that means; if it means challenging them with speed through the neutral zone or making them play extended shifts in our offensive zone or put them under pressure on their breakouts and maybe force them into turnovers. Those are potentially advantages for us if we can have enough of those situations."
The quartet of Morrissey, Melchiori, Chiarot and Postma has combined to play a total of 277 games in the NHL. Veteran Dustin Byfuglien is averaging a league-leading 28:49 per night in ice time this season on the Winnipeg blueline, and Toby Enstrom is at 22:18 per game. Those two are expected to carrier a heavier workload as the Jets try to navigate their way through until Myers and Stuart are healthy again. Byfuglien played just under 31 minutes in Tuesday's game and he was excellent.
The Jets were able to protect their young defensemen for the most part in Tuesday's game, but the Caps and coach Barry Trotz will have more of a say in match-ups for tonight's game between the two teams.
"I think we did that early in the game [on Tuesday] and that's where a lot of our chances came from," says Trotz. "They play big Buff there for 31 minutes. I was trying to force their [defense] to have to play heavy minutes with the way they wanted the lines matched up. I was trying to force some of that, and they were avoiding some of the match-ups at home.
"They're a good team, They play hard, they can skate, they get up and down. We've got to play hard and if we do what we do, hopefully we'll be on the positive side tonight. That's not always the case, but hopefully we're on the positive side."