The Winnipeg Jets (19-22-5) haven’t had a pretty start to the new year, and they will try to earn their first win of 2014 when the Columbus Blue Jackets (20-20-4) pay a visit to the MTS Centre on Saturday.
The Jets, who finished 2013 with a three-game winning streak, have entered the new year with four straight losses, the most in a row this season, including a 4-2 home loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Jackets have won three of their last four, including a shocker against the New York Rangers on Monday, and a 3-0 shutout over the Carolina Hurricanes just 22 hours before puck drop in Winnipeg. The Jets won the first game of a two-game season series on December 16th, when they out-lasted the hometown Jackets by a score of 3-2. That victory evened the all-time series between the two teams, with a 1-1 record apiece. The Blue Jackets sit one point ahead of the Jets in the standings (44-43, and have played two fewer games than their Manitoban counterparts.
Winnipeg will see starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec in goal, making his second consecutive start. Pavelec made 29 saves in a losing effort against the Lightning, and has averaged 3.06 Goals Against with a .901% save percentage in 34 games this season. The Jackets will start back-up Curtis McElhinney, who has a .909% save percentage and 2.81 GAA in 19 games this season.
The Jackets will be without sniper Marian Gaborik, who is on Injured Reserve with a broken collarbone. Joining him on the IR are Jared Boll (ankle), Oliver Gabriel (Achilles), Blake Comeau (knee), and Jack Skille (upper-body). The Jets will also be without one of their most dynamic players, as Evander Kane will not dress due to a hand injury. Winnipeg’s IR is also busy, with Grant Clitsome (back), Matt Halischuk (broken arm), Paul Postma (blood clot), and Jim Slater (hernia) still over a week away from skating.
In a move that sparked intense debate in the Jets’ three days off, Dustin Byfuglien will move from his post on Winnipeg’s blue-line, and will play as a forward on the Jets’ top line with Bryan Little and captain Andrew Ladd. Byfuglien is a top five scorer among defencemen in the league, and played a huge role as a forward with his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Young defenseman Zach Redmond will make his first NHL appearance since November 21st, as he was recalled by the Jets from their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Ice Caps, on Friday. Redmond has appeared in 3 games this season, and has a blank stat line, aside from a -2 rating. In the AHL, Redmond has 13 points in 17 games this season.
The Jets scored two power-play goals in their loss to the Lightning, and nothing will change there. Byfuglien is expected to take his shot to the point when the Jets go on the man-advantage on Saturday.
Columbus is coming off a game, a two-hour flight, and a time zone change in the last 15 hours. With no morning skate on the agenda for the Blue Jackets, only three players hit the ice: Sergei Bobrovsky, Derek MacKenzie, and Dalton Prout. Taking advantage of the Jackets’ busy schedule will be key for the Jets.
The Jackets are 5-8-1 against their former conference this season, including a 1-4-1 record against the Jets’ Central Division teams. Winnipeg holds an 11-8-1 record against Eastern Conference teams, and are 10-9-4 at home. The Jackets hold a 10-11-2 record when on the road this year.
You can see the game on Hockey Night In Canada, or listen live on TSN 1290 radio. Non-regional viewers can see the game on Fox Sports-Ohio. The match gets underway at 6:00 PM Central Time.
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