The Winnipeg Jets (13-12-4) and Florida Panthers (7-16-5) will open their two-game season series at the BB&T Center on Thursday night. The two teams were former Southwest Division rivals, but that 2-year tenure ended in the 2013 off-season as the Jets made their way to the Western Conference. Thursday’s meeting will be the first between the two teams since they shared the Southwest grouping.
The Panthers and Jets ‘ rivalry was a brief one, and their match-ups stayed relatively close, with Winnipeg posting a 6-4-1 all-time record against the Panthers. The two teams last met on April 11th of 2013, where the Jets won at home by a lopsided 7-2 score.
The Jets continue their season’s longest road trip, heading into the home stretch with the trip to the Sunshine State. The Jets have gone 3-1 in that span, with their most recent game coming from New York, a 5-2 Jets victory. The Panthers have dropped their last three games, all at home, out-scored 14-5 in that time. Thursday’s game against the Jets will be their last game of a 5-game home stand, as they will head out to face Detroit and Chicago soon after.
The Panthers will see veteran goaltender Tim Thomas in net, making his 13th straight start. Thomas has given up four goals in each of his last three games, and sits on a 2.96 GAA so far this season. The Jets will see Al Montoya make his return to the crease, after starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec made the Jets’ last two starts. Montoya’s last action was against his former team, the New York Islanders, and he made 28 saves in the winning effort. Montoya has a .916% Save Percentage and a 2.42 GAA in seven appearances this year.
The Panthers could receive a significant boost to their lineup in the form of Tomas Kopecky, who is very close to returning from an elbow injury suffered on November 21st. The Panthers will still be without defenseman Matt Gilroy, who is on the Injured Reserve with a lower-body injury, Steven Pinizzotto, who joins Gilroy on the IR with a hip injury, and captain Ed Jovanovski, who has not played this season after a hip surgery in April. The Jets’ Evander Kane will not play for the second straight game, after suffering a lower-body injury against the Philadelphia Flyers on Black Friday. The Jets will be without defensemen Jim Slater, Paul Postma, and Zach Bogosian, who are all on the IR with no timetable for their returns.
The Jets will stick to the system to get the win against Florida, and a disciplined, selfless game will be required to exit Sunrise with two points. The Panthers will be hungry for blood after dropping their last three games, and the Jets will have to fend off an early, spirited attack by the young team. Getting a lot of pucks to the net will be a huge bonus, and the Jets could see 3+ goals in the game if their offensive-zone play is sharp.
The Jets are an even .500% on the road this season, with a 6-6-1 record. Winnipeg continues to dominate against their former conference in 2013-14, posting a record of 7-2-1. Florida is ironically almost .500% against the perceived stronger Western Conference, with a 5-6-3 record. The Panthers have picked up 4 of their 7 wins this season at home, with a meager 4-8-2 record.
Thursday’s game starts at 6:30 PM Central Time. You can view the game on TSN Jets, and listen live on TSN 1290. Non-regional viewers can watch the game on Fox Sports Florida.