The Pre Game: I’m going to let you in on a secret. We people of the prairie have known it for decades, but as a group we tend to be Scandinavian, and so tight-lipped. We only pass it down– whispered– when there’s no other choice; as on those nights the wind shakes the windows and hope seems to extinguish in the pit of a cold, dead emptiness. And here it is: there is no darker, stranger place on this Earth than Winnipeg. It’s Canada’s sooty heart of darkness… and now, thanks to the NHL, we have to spend a night there.
You can spend a lifetime overnight in Winnipeg.
The Puck Drop
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “But it’s Canada! How scary can that be?” Here’s how creepy: David Lynch won’t even go there. That’s how creepy Winnipeg is. Built at the base of a floodplain that sinks in summer and concentrates the winds into an arctic vortex each winter, Winnipeg is a place that sensible cultures would just abandon. Admit their mistake, move on, and leave it to future anthropologists to try and make sense of the debris: curling, BTO, and Guy Maddin.
Sure, some have escaped. Cody Eakin and Eric the Fehr among the more adorables. But let me ask you this: do you know anyone who’s been to Winnipeg? Didn’t they come back…changed?
Drama aside, perhaps our Caps could use a little change. Maybe get a little creeped out. Fight a little harder to survive. Get freaking pucks to the net. You know, that sort of thing.
What Makes Them Hot
#1: Fly-in. So the Jets have just landed this season from Atlanta, a place that shares nothing with Winnipeg except, perhaps, its smell. Look, save for some call-ups, the Jets are basically the Thrashers, but with less Coke and more coney dogs. OK, I kid…but neither team dazzled – the Thrashers the last several seasons, or the Jets so far this one. Ordinarily this would be a ‘Not’ more than ‘Hot’; but here’s the rub: hockey was as welcome in Atlanta as an anthrax attack on Olympic Park. Residents never took to the team, nor the team to the ice. It’s different now – and while fan support is clearly an intangible, any team worth their paychecks will play harder before an audience that really, really wants to see them. That’s new for the Thra-Jets, and game by game they just might start to respond. Remember, also, that the Jets are doing better at home so far than then Caps are on the road. Call me crazy, but this team might bite.
#2: Individuals. Nik Antropov (3-9-12), Kyle Wellwood (5-6-11), and Dustin Byfuglien (3-8-11); all these guys are performing at least as well as a dozen or more Caps (Sasha?) Sharp-shooters Jim Slater (5-1-6) and Evander Kane (6-5-11) both have five goals in about twice as many games. But I’m seeing less smart team play and more individual action. It’s like a bad stew: there hasn’t been enough time or attention for the flavors (players) to come together and play getting-to-know-you. But hot-shot players (SASHA?) still count for something: if the coaching squad can get it together, they might have a fine meal on hand.
#3: Trap Crap. Several of the teams the Jets have played lately, like the Bolts, are trap teams. The Caps are not. The Jets, with the exception of that last game, don’t do well with quick, fast play that unsprings the trap. Believe it or not, they might just have the right style in meeting the Caps.
What Makes Them Not
Ondrej Pavelec mysteriously collapsed during a game with the Caps last year. He’s fine now!
#1: It’s a Net Thing. Ooof. Neither Ondrej Pavelec (.895%) nor Chris Mason (.893%) are doing much in the net for Winnipeg this year. They’re sort of a mix, all over the place. That means pucks are landing all over the place, too. Caps have the upper hand here – unlike with Pekka Rinne. Which sounds like something I put on my pasta. And Ondrej Pavelec? Didn’t I order that for dessert in Paris? *lesigh*
#2: Faster Penalty Kill! Kill!: The Jets are simply sucking at PKs at 79%. Granted, the Caps aren’t much better at 83%, and unfortunately as we’ve seen a better motivated team can bend those stats and capitalize where data says they shouldn’t. The Jets aren’t quite stinking on PP (16%) so much as they’re middle of the road. Caps, again, may drive the car here (at 20%), but these numbers are not far apart enough to give me comfort.
#3: Enough: I’ve prattled on long enough without pointing to the obvious: the Jets are a middling team. On paper they should not defeat the Caps. Then again, if it were all just paper, we’d never race horses.
In closing I’m going to be uncharacteristically nice… in part because my contract with RMNB specifies I have to do so. But this one I mean: has anyone noticed the players on the Jets? I mean really, it’s a more diverse line-up of guys than I’ve seen in…well, just about ever. Even more so than may pans of the Caps fans benches. It may not change their play, but it’s one of the few nice things I can say about Winnipeg these days. Like the look of your lineups, Jets!
Your Sudden-Death Shoot Out
Ladies and gentlemen: I give you Winnipeg.