Dec 10, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) makes a save during the first period against the St. Louis Blues at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Avalanche - Jets

Who: Winnipeg Jets (14-14-4)

When: Tonight, 8:00PM EST/6:00PM MDT

Your Starting Goalies: COL – Semyon Varlamov (13-8-0), WPG – Ondrej Pavelec (10-12-3)

The Dangermen: Though they sit 21st in the NHL in goals per game right now, the Jets have plenty of dangerous offensive presences in the lineup and there may not be a more dangerous player for them right now than Bryan Little. He leads the team in goals (13), is second in assists (15) and leads in points (28) through 32 games.

Dec 10, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Bryan Little (18) celebrates his goal with teammates Andrew Ladd (16) and forward Olli Jokinen (12) during the third period against the St. Louis Blues at MTS Centre. Blues win 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Unsurprisingly, his linemates Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler are right there at the top of the Jets scoring list with 22 and 21 points respectively. This trio is quite the group – Ladd and Wheeler are big power forwards who can deke you out of your skates when they aren’t pasting you into the boards. Little is the smallish playmaker of the group, though you’d never know it with the way he’s scoring.

Behind them, there are dangerous folks like Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi, who have the talent to take it end to end, but aren’t playing up to snuff on a struggling Jets team right now. Overall, this group is tough as nails and will use their physicality to try to win the individual battles.

The Defenders: Defensively, the Jets are a little better than they are at scoring. Led by “Big Buff” Dustin Byfuglien, who has 22 points and the physique of a jumbo jet, this group is mostly of the stay-at-home variety. Aside from Buff and Tobias Enstrom, there isn’t much offense on the back end. Everyone is chipping in a little bit but Byfuglien is the star of this group.

Where they make up for it, however, is on the penalty kill.  Sitting 10th in the league right now, they are a tough unit to crack and the strength of the Jets. They have smart defenders who keep in their lanes and block shots, more than making up for their lack of offense.

Still, they give up a ton of shots (31.4/game, 24th in the league) and can have a bunch scored on them at any time.

Puck Stoppers Inc.:  Ondrej Pavelec is a tough guy to figure out. He’s among the league leaders in shots faced this season, so he makes his fair share of stops, but he’s also likely to give up his fair share, too. He faces the lion’s share of the starts and is just 10-12-3 on the year with a 2.73 GAA and .913 save percentage.

He’s a solid goalie but the Avalanche should be salivating at the thought of this game. A team that gives up a ton of shots in front of a goalie that isn’t invincible. The Avalanche need to get on the board early and keep the pressure on Pavelec from the get-go.

How the Avs match up: Injuries are starting to take a toll on this team, but they got news that Hejda and Wilson will be back this weekend, so the light at the end of the tunnel is there. Yes, this skid sucks, but the Avalanche are still in a good position and can easily turn this around with a decisive win tonight.

The Avalanche need to use their speed to get the Jets defense running around and make sure to bombard Pavelec from start to finish. Get in his face, make him know you’re there at all times and you’re bound to get a deflection or two to go your way.

Please stay out of the box. The Jets power play is not good, but the Avalanche penalty kill is struggling badly right now and needs to limit the amount of times they have to kill penalties.

Key Matchup: Pressure vs Pavelec

Cower in fear if: The Wheeler-Little-Ladd line controls the puck possession game, creating extended shifts and additional pressure in the Avs end.

The Avs don’t STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX.

Colorado looks flat.

Laugh maniacally if: Matt Duchene snaps out of this funk he’s been in.

The defense, short a man or two, rallies to a fine performance in anticipation of the returning Hejda and Wilson.

The Avs get on the board early.

Silly predictions: The Jets top line has at least one shift that is ridiculously long and effective; Andre Benoit (balls) power play goal; Nathan MacKinnon gets back in the goal column; Varlamov makes at least one sick save to remind us he’s pretty good at this whole “stopping the puck” thing.

Final:  3-2 Avalanche

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Andrew Ladd Blake Wheeler Bryan Little Colorado Avalanche Dustin Byfuglien Matt Duchene Nathan MacKinnon NHL Semyon Varlamov Winnipeg Jets

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