The Winnipeg Jets’ top line is anchoring an offense that is trying to push the Central Division team to a playoff berth.
Winnipeg (35-28-6) sat just one point out of a wild-card spot through Saturday’s games, trailing the idle Nashville Predators (34-26-8) for the second position, as six teams vie for the top two slots that will put them in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Jets will try to take the next step Monday when they host the Arizona Coyotes (33-28-8) at 8 p.m. ET. The meeting will be the teams’ second, and the home side will be searching for a better outcome than the first.
On Oct. 15 on home ice, Winnipeg dropped a 4-2 decision to Arizona as the Coyotes used a 38-save performance by goalie Darcy Kuemper, two tallies by Christian Dvorak and markers from Conor Garland and Nick Schmaltz for the win.
Special teams were key — Arizona’s Dvorak and Schmaltz notched power-play markers, as did Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor — and the two Jets forwards have continued their stellar play on a top line that also features captain Blake Wheeler.
Left wing Connor, center Scheifele and right wing Wheeler have authored an incredibly productive campaign through 69 games — combining for 204 points as the driving force of the club’s offense.
Connor (team-high 36 goals) and Scheifele (club-best 43 assists) lead Winnipeg with 71 points each, and Wheeler is a 62-point contributor with 21 tallies and 41 helpers.
Winnipeg jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead in Friday’s game against Vegas. Coach Paul Maurice said the eventual 4-0 win over the Golden Knights — spearheaded by goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s NHL-leading sixth shutout — was a big win considering the upcoming schedule.
“It was a big game, first-place team,” Maurice said. “We’re going to hit them twice (and) Colorado twice in the stretch. Pretty powerful teams. It was a tighter first period than the 3-0 score said it was.”
The game against the Coyotes will close out the Jets’ three-game homestand and is an opportunity for them to sweep all six points. They opened it with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres last Tuesday.
Then Winnipeg will embark on a three-game road swing through western Canada, with contests in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver against Pacific sides in playoff positions.
Arizona has been victorious in three of its previous five but dropped Friday’s encounter with the Flames, 3-2, in Calgary. Taylor Hall posted a goal and an assist and Carl Soderberg scored, but the Coyotes couldn’t tie the game in a scoreless third period.
The contest was also painful as the Coyotes lost Garland, their top goal scorer with 22, for the foreseeable future with a lower-body injury.
Garland is listed as “week to week,” by the club. The 23-year-old Massachusetts native went down after colliding with Flames goaltender Cam Talbot.
A strong defensive club that ices a tight style of play, Arizona has allowed 18 goals over its last nine games (5-4-0) but has gained just 10 of the 18 points as they attempt to chase down a wild-card spot.
“You can’t go on skids,” said Hall after the Calgary loss. “That’s the biggest thing is, you lose one, you have to get back on the horse and find a way to get a point or two in the next game, especially when you’re on the road.”
The Coyotes are 1-1-0 on the three-game road trip that concludes in Manitoba. Arizona and Winnipeg will meet for the final time on the last day of the regular season — out west in the desert on April 4.
–Field Level Media