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2011-12 season preview: Winnipeg Jets

2010-11 record (as the Atlanta Thrashers): 34-36-12, 80 points; 4th in Southeast, 12th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

To some, it might be appropriate to throw out last season. The Atlanta Thrashers are now the Winnipeg Jets, transforming a team in a non-traditional (but huge) market into a second opportunity for a small but rapid Canadian market to support an NHL team. Kevin Cheveldayoff is the new general manager, Claude Noel will be the new coach and the jerseys and arena will be totally different.

That being said, the roster remains largely the same. They’ll just be playing with a bigger home-ice advantage and the higher level of scrutiny (honeymoon stage or not) that comes with it.

Offense

Normally it’s reasonable to keep defensemen out of this category, but when has Dustin Byfuglien been normal? The hybrid blueliner can play a wing or defensive position, but the general idea is the same: he should bull his way around the ice and unleash his terrifying slap shot without hesitation. Byfuglien earned an All-Star appearance with a blazing first half before falling apart in the second half. He may be a defenseman (or the Jets might decide to move him back to forward), but there’s no denying that he’s the catalyst of this team’s attack.

The rest of the forwards are rounded out by some players with size (Eric Fehr, Nik Antropov), guys who’ve had one strong season but need to prove they can do it again (Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd) and promising youngsters with unclear potential (Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov). It might be hard to deny 2011 first-round pick Mark Scheifele a spot in the lower end of the lineup, if the team decides that he’s better off in that role at the NHL level (instead of getting higher profile reps at a lower level).

On paper, the Jets’ attack isn’t too frightening, but a lot of wild cards are at play.

Defense

For all the blustery praise about Byfuglien, he wasn’t quite the same when his talented scoring partner Tobias Enstrom got banged up. The small Swede put together two consecutive 50-plus point seasons that largely went under the radar because of the Thrashers’ woes. He should get some well-deserved attention if he puts together another strong campaign, even if he might get lost in Buffy’s shadow.

Zach Bogosian has been a disappointment so far – he’s seemingly an unshaped form of clay but has all the tools you’d hope for in a future star defenseman. It’s the intangibles such as hockey IQ that keep holding him back, but perhaps a change of scenery might help him reach his first-round potential.

Ron Hainsey is a three-time 30-plus point defenseman, but his scoring numbers keep tumbling. That’s not a huge problem with the offensive gems this team could sport from the blue line, as long as he uses his size to continue to improve in his own end.

Overall, defense is a strength for Winnipeg – at least from the perspective of scoring points. The Jets’ weakness though is keeping the puck out of their own net.

Goalies

Both Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason are in contract years, so each guy has a lot on the line. Pavelec hopes to show that his flashes of potential can turn into seasons full of sustained success while Mason needs to prove that he deserves to continue working at the NHL level.

Pavelec was outstanding at times last season, although consistency might be the key (that or not getting too frustrated with a defense that might hang him out to dry more often than other goalies). Mason produced some solid work in St. Louis and Nashville, so the Jets have reason to believe that he’ll bounce back from a rough season in which he sported an ugly .892 save percentage.

Coaching

Sure, he coached the Columbus Blue Jackets on an interim basis in 2009-10, but in the grand scheme of things, this is Claude Noel’s first real chance at a coaching job. Craig Ramsay did a nice job of getting the most out of an unusual roster, so Noel has his work cut out for him. Finding the right balance between getting the most out of the team’s greatest strengths (youth and dangerous offensive defensemen) and limiting the drawbacks of their weaknesses (such as the mistakes that come from being so aggressive) remains key. Perhaps his years as Ken Hitchcock’s assistant will influence him in a positive way.

Breakout candidate

Sure, he hasn’t been totally under the radar in his first two seasons – people still revere him for knocking out Matt Cooke – but Kane seems primed for a leap. Maybe it’s because he received Bobby Hull’s blessing to wear number 9 or perhaps it’s just the natural maturation of a power forward, but there are some who believe he could flirt with 30 goals this season.

Best-case scenario

Some might argue that this team should stock up on prospects, but honestly, the people of Winnipeg would go insane over a playoff run in the first year. The best-case scenario would involve the team earning a postseason bid thanks to an All-Star season from Pavelec, dynamic work from Byfuglien and a score-by-committee approach from their offense.

Reality

The Jets feature a strange mixture of players. The ceiling seems fairly modest (sixth seed), but it’s not crazy to at least think about a playoff run of some kind. On the bright side, fans would probably let a rough season slide, so the Jets are in as close to a win-win situation as an NHL team can enjoy.

That being said, winning is always appreciated, too.

Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 15: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers shares a laugh with teammate Antti Raanta #32 after defeating the Vancouver Canucks 7-2 in NHL action on November 15, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.

Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).

Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:

Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.

Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01:  Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the go ahead goal against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.

For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.

They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.

Columbus is now at 16-5-4, giving them 36 standings points. They’re once again in breathing distance of leading the Metro Division when you consider games in hand.

Update: Here’s how the standings look after the Rangers beat the Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime:

1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP

That’s a stout division, and the Blue Jackets remain shockingly effective. Then again, with results like these over and over again, it might be time to merely expect such impressive work.

***

For Detroit, it was a rough night. Jonathan Ericsson couldn’t play, Mike Green was a little banged up and Petr Mrazek was pulled for Jimmy Howard. This goal summarized some of their struggles:

Blues blaze through Devils, even in New Jersey

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09: (L-R) Brad Hunt #77, Robby Fabbri #15 and Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate Fabri's first period goal against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.

On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.

It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.

This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.

That’s impressive stuff.

This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:

The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”

Oh yeah, don’t forget about Jake Allen, either.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Update: The Wild were able to shake off that goal, ultimately beating the Oilers 3-2 via a shootout.