The New York Rangers arrive in Winnipeg to play the Jets on Thursday having lost six of their past 10 games and continuing to add players to the injured list. Forwards Matt Puempel and Rick Nash were hurt in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, forcing the Rangers to play with only 10 forwards for the final 33 minutes in falling to 4-5-1 since a 13-4-0 start.
New York Rangers vs Winnipeg Jets
When: 8:00 PM ET, Thursday, December 8, 2016
Where: MTS Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba
|13||NY RANGERS||0 (-110)||5.5 (-110)||-115
TV: 8 p.m. ET, MSG (New York), TSN3 (Winnipeg)
PREDICTION: Jets 3, Rangers 2
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — If there ever was a David versus Goliath matchup in the NHL, the New York Rangers versus the Winnipeg Jets is it.
Hockey’s largest population base versus its smallest, a team with more than 90 years of history versus one with just five (in its most recent incarnation), a squad with four Stanley Cup victories and a perennial contender versus one with not only zero championships but not a single playoff game win.
Heck, the original Jets history goes back to the days of the World Hockey Association when the Rangers outbid virtually every other NHL team to sign Swedish superstars Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson away in 1978.
So, yeah, you could say the Jets are polishing up their slingshots in advance of facing the blue shirts Thursday night at 7 p.m. (CST) at the MTS Centre. This is the second and final meeting between the two squads. The Rangers defeated the Jets 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 6.
The Jets have been relying heavily this season on super rookie Patrik Laine, who not only leads all first-year players with 17 goals, but is tied with some guy named Sidney Crosby atop the NHL goal-scoring parade. The Winnipeggers will need some help from some slumping players to take the pressure off the 18-year-old, including his linemate, Nikolaj Ehlers. The 20-year-old notched 15 goals and 38 points last year but has only managed four goals and 19 assists while playing primarily on the top line this season.
He is currently mired in a 14-game goal drought but he’s not losing any sleep over it.
“I’m still scoring points, we’re winning games — it’s not a big deal for me,” Ehlers told the Winnipeg Sun. “So I’m not too worried. But I wouldn’t mind that one goes in soon.”
He’s not getting much sympathy from Laine.
“He can’t score in Playstation, either,” he said.
Presumably, Henrik Lundqvist is between the pipes whenever the two youngsters play the video game version of the Rangers but that won’t be the case on Thursday as backup Antti Raanta will get the start.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he believes Lundqvist, who hasn’t cracked the top 10 in goals against average, save percentage, win and shutouts this season, has another level.
“He’s our top player, you know. He’s been doing it for quite a few years. I would tell you that you look at any team right now that’s winning and they are getting consistent Grade A goaltending. We’re no different than anybody else. We need consistent Grade A goaltending,” he told the New York Post.
Both teams will be without key cogs in their wheels. The Jets hope to welcome center Mark Scheifele back after missing three games with a lower-body injury but they’ll still be without defenseman Tyler Myers (lower body) and forwards Nic Petan, Shawn Matthias and Joel Armia, all out with lower-body injuries, too.
The most notable absence in the Rangers lineup is center Rick Nash, who is out with a groin injury. Others who won’t be suiting up include forwards Pavel Buchnevich (back spasms), Matt Puempel (concussion) and Mika Zibanejad (broken leg).
If the game turns into a battle of specialty teams, the ice will definitely tilt in favor of the New Yorkers. The Jets’ power play is 21st in the league, operating at 15.5 percent, a significant drop from the Rangers, who are currently in ninth position and 21 percent. The Rangers kill off 84 percent of all the penalties they take, good for 10th in the NHL, far ahead of the Jets, who emerge unscathed from 80 percent of their short-handed situations, or 24th best.