WINNIPEG It should be a couple of desperate hockey teams when the Bruins and Winnipeg Jets suit up for a meeting at the normally raucous MTS Centre in Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon. Both teams are riding two-game losing streaks. It's the first such streak of the season for the Black and Gold. For Winnipeg it's just the latest blow to their pride as they tumble to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
We have to get back on track here, said Claude Julien said Saturday. Weve lost two in a row to New York and Buffalo, so we need to bounce back. We have to be ready to play tomorrow and we know what kind of a challenge we have in front of us. They have a good coach that gets them to play hard.
Theyre a hard-working team. Basically we have to be the better team tomorrow if we expect to win.
It starts with generating a little more offense than the 2.7 goals per game thats stuck them in the middle of the NHLs rankings this season. That was a problem for the Bruins against Buffalo after they failed to build a good enough lead against the Sabres Friday night before collapsing in the third period, and Bostons best players like Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron continue to have problems producing goals.
That kind of needed goal production will be more under the spotlight on Sunday afternoon because Milan Lucic has reported back to Boston to attend to personal reasons and 38-year-old veteran Jay Pandolfo will be inserted into the Boston lineup for the first time. Thats clearly an offensive downgrade for the Bruins, but it opens up a challenge for some of Bostons top-drawer offensive talent to finally get things going in a shortened season that wont look kindly on extended slumps.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Chris Kelly is still the only Bruins forward without a goal 12 games into the season, and has a minus-4 rating. The Bruins offense has been very average for the balance of the season and it can be traced to a couple of different things: the season-long goal-scoring struggles of Tyler Seguin and the inability of the Bs third line to kick in a little more. The Bruins were nearly undefeated last season when Kelly scored (he had 20 goals) so its clear how important the third lines contributions are to the success of the team. It needs to start happening for Kelly, who still doesnt look like he has his hands or timing back yet when he gets the chance to make plays in the offensive zone.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: They were a team that was really excited to be back here last year. The players can feel the passion and support of the fans on the ice. We came in here last year and they gave us some tough games. We lost both games here last year, but its a new year. Bruins coach Claude Julien talking about going winless at the MTS Centre against the Jets in two tries last season.
KEY MATCHUP: The Winnipeg Jets have the worst penalty-kill unit in the NHL while allowing close to 35 percent of their opponents power play chances to be successful, and theyll be going up against a Bruins man advantage that actually produced a goal Friday night against the Sabres. Things will look different for the Bs PP units with Lucic set to miss the game, but it also appears the Bruins man advantage finally started playing with a little more swagger and a lot more life and movement against Buffalo. If that carries over into Sunday afternoon, it could be the difference between winning and losing in Winnipeg.
STAT TO WATCH: 2 That's the number of game-winning goals for Winnipeg forward Bryan Little against the Bruins in two home games for the Jets at MTS Centre last season. I could have also gone with the team-worst minus-8 for Blake Wheeler this season, but thought Id take the high road.
INJURIES: Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) is expected to miss the season and be placed on long term injured reserve. Milan Lucic (personal reasons) will miss his first game of the season against the Jets after he had to fly back to Boston on Saturday afternoon for personal reasons. Winnipeg is expected to be without goaltender Al Montoya (lower body) and forward Antti Miettinen (upper body).
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is expected to get the start coming off his worst game of the season while letting up a pair of bad goals Tuesday night against the New York Rangers. Rask has a .946 save percentage this season if you subtract his six goals allowed against the Sabres earlier this season, and has been excellent. Ondrej Pavelec has a 3.15 goals against average and an .890 save percentage that arent exactly going to get the job done, but he had arguably his best game of the season against the Bruins while making 26 saves in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.