Who: Winnipeg Jets (5-5-2)
When: Tonight, 8:00PM EST/6:00PM MDT
Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (6-1-0), WPG – Ondrej Pavelec (4-5-2)
The Dangermen: I feel like on paper, this should be a more dangerous group, but their 2.33 goals-per-game places them in the bottom third of the league offensively. Regardless, this is a smash-you-in the face kind of team from top to bottom. The Avalanche will have to keep their heads up and use their speed if they don’t want to get smashed real good.
Leading the way is Evander Kane. A throwback to Old-Time Hockey, Kane is just as likely to throw a big hit as he is to score a goal. He’s an excellent talent with top-end speed, great hands, and a nose for the net. The Avs are going to have their hands full with him as he’s already scored a half-dozen times during their season so far.
Right behind him is smallish playmaking center Bryan Little. He can be pushed off his game, but if he’s allowed to roam free, he can hurt the opposition with pinpoint passes to linemates Devin Setoguchi and Andrew Ladd. Seto is a young talent struggling through his first 11 games (5 points) while Ladd is known as one of the better leaders in the game. He is the captain and he leads by example: throwing his weight around, getting to the net, and playing a rough game.
There’s also veterans Blake Wheeler and Olli Jokinen to worry about. It wasn’t that long ago that Jokinen was a quality second-line center scoring option. He’s offensively gifted, but inconsistent. Still, he can hurt you at any time. Wheeler, meanwhile, is in the Ladd mold: a big, physical power forward with quality hands.
Again — I have no idea how this group isn’t more productive.
The Defenders: While Zach Bogosian is the star of this group, the most dangerous offensive defenseman he is not. That distinction is a tie between the huge Dustin Byfuglien and the much, much smaller Tobias Enstrom. Enstrom is a smaller puck-mover; slick skater, smart decision maker, and a strong passer. If the Avs are caught napping, Enstrom is the kind of guy that can connect on a home run pass or two.
Byfuglien is an interesting case. He’s got all the talent in the world (he’s spent time at forward in his career) and the frame to go with it. He’s a big body, but he’s had issues keeping his weight in check. He’s looked focused and in control of his weight this season, with eight points (all assists) through the team’s first dozen games. He’ll light the lamp himself at some point — he’s got a boomer of a shot from the point.
The aforementioned Bogosian is the most complete defender on the roster. Big, smart, physical and possessing all the tools of a top defenseman, he’s becoming a force in the league. He’ll chip in offense here and there, but defense is the name of his game and he’ll likely get matched up with the Matt Duchene/Ryan O’Reilly/Steve Downie line. He’s got his work cut out for him.
The rest of the group is fairly average — Mark Stuart, Paul Postma, and Grant Clitsome are alright defenders but more than one of them probably shouldn’t be in a top six somewhere. Youngster Jacob Trouba was with this group, but age and mistakes have him on the bench. The Avalanche will find success against this group.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: Welcome to the Ondrej Pavelec show!
Like Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, Pavelec faces an obscene amount of shots. He currently has seen the most rubber in the league through his 11 starts and has yet again seen the vast majority of the work in the crease for the Jets (backup Al Montoya has just one start so far this year).
While he’s not a superstar by any stretch of the imagination, he’s a solid goalie capable of stealing a game. He’s used to facing so many shots, so he is always alert and on top of his game. The Avalanche will no doubt pepper him with shots tonight and he’ll get a helluva test from the Avs and their 3.20 goals-per-game.
Expect the Avs to up Pavelec’s league-leading shots against total by a nice amount. Think 40+.
How the Avs match up: The Jets give up the most shots of anyone around and the Avs like to score a lot. This seems ideal, no? Realistically, the Avalanche are going to pepper Pavelec with shots and more than a couple are going to get through. It’s just how the world works when you give up so many shots.
That being said, the Avalanche could be in some trouble if they get into a mash ‘em up game with the Jets. They’re big and strong, built for the physical game. The Avalanche can still play their game — run around, finish your checks — but they need to keep their heads up to stay out of the way of a bigger Jets team. Getting into a physical battle with Winnipeg could be a bad idea.
Also: STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.
Key Matchup: Avs aggressive forwards vs bend-but-don’t-break Jets defense
Cower in fear if: The Jets forwards are driving to the net worry-free.
The Avs get into a physical battle with the Jets.
Pavelec has one of those stand-on-his-head games.
Laugh maniacally if: The Avs manage to stay out of the cross-hairs of the bigger Jets.
The Jets offensive defensemen are limited by pressure at the point from the Avs forwards.
Matt Duchene/Ryan O’Reilly continue their reign of terror.
Silly predictions: Ryan O’Reilly scores, announcing “I’m pretty good, too”; Varly turns away a couple of big shot bursts from the Jets; Pavelec makes one or two incredible saves; the Avs get more power plays than the opposition.
Final: 3-1 Avalanche
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