Can Jets make a run to playoffs?
KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
|Jets forward Andrew Ladd (left) battles Sens defenceman Jared Cowen last November in Winnipeg. (Jason Halstead/QMI Agency/Files)
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets will attempt to keep their slim playoff hopes alive on Monday night when they take on the Ottawa Senators at MTS Centre.
The Jets (25-32-8) are six points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining, but they have a game in hand on Washington and Buffalo, who are currently tied for eighth. The Senators (38-28-10) are seventh in the East, eight points up on the Jets.
“One team usually a year kind of goes on a run and is able to catch a team who falters at the end and who play great at home,” Jets winger Kyle Wellwood said. “So tonight is a chance to play somebody who is ahead of us in the standings and hopefully finds a way to lose the games.”
Jets head coach Claude Noel had a chat with his second line after Monday’s morning skate, wanting the trio of Wellwood, Alex Burmistrov and Evander Kane to provide a little more offence.
“He just kind of asked what was going on with us, how we feel about our game,” Wellwood said. “On our road we face tougher matchups than we get at home, and we weren’t able to handle their top lines. It hurt us. Tonight we’ll probably get easier match-ups, and we gotta make sure we’re contributing.”
Burmistrov, who hasn’t scored in 10 games, is one of a few examples of players who have not been seen much down the stretch as the contests have gotten more important. Noel believes his young players having to deal with the intense spotlight in Winnipeg is a reason for their struggles.
“This is where maturity comes in,” Noel said. “We’ve been going at (a playoff spot) for a while. It’s what wears on you. It’s the strain, stress of every game — road, home, all the time. The other thing, too, is you’re coming from a different animal here. You’re coming from Atlanta to here. There’s a lot of exposure here, there’s a lot more pressure, there’s a lot more people paying attention, there’s a lot more expectation, there’s a lot more internal want from our players to do well. It’s way different than Atlanta.
“So the last 30 or 40 games, does that wear on you? I think it does, but that’s part of learning how to deal with this stuff.”
The young fourth line, consisting of Ben Maxwell, Tim Stapleton and Spencer Machacek, scored three of Winnipeg’s four goals in the final two games of its recent road trip, and Noel plans to use it a little more against the Senators.
“If things continue down the same road, they’re going to end up moving up a notch line-wise, because it’s clear we need more from Burmistrov’s line,” Noel said. “At home it’ll help us get Burmistrov’s line out when we want and get Maxwell’s line out when we want as well.”
The consensus is the Jets need to pick up at least 11 of a possible 14 points down the stretch if they’re going to claim a playoff spot.
“Desperate teams are tough to play against,” Senators forward Nick Foligno said. “They’re fighting for their lives. We have to treat it the same way for us. We’re a desperate hockey team as well.
“It’s a tight race for us, and we want to try to get as many points as we can. It’s a push for the playoffs for us as well, and I’m sure it’ll be an exciting game.”
Nik Antropov (lower body) took part in the morning skate, but he won’t play against the Sens and is questionable for Wednesday’s home game against the New York Rangers. Noel said Antropov and Chris Thorburn (lower body) are expected to travel with the team on its four-game road trip that starts Friday in Carolina.