Every game on an 82-game NHL schedule is important, make no mistake, whether they’re in October or April and regardless of who they’re against. From a practical standpoint, they’re all equal opportunities to grab two points.
That being said, not all games are equal from a mental standpoint. Every team has a few games each month that fans and players circle on mental calendars for one reason or another. These are games that seem to bear a little extra importance; that imbue a little more confidence if won.
The Winnipeg Jets have a few of those in February — at least three — that they and fans will be a little more amped up about.
Feb. 5: The Return of Evander Kane
If there was a player Jets fans have more animus for than Evander Kane, this author has yet to find him.
The now-27-year-old winger was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers and played for the Jets between 2011 and 2015. His exceptional offensive skills, however, were overshadowed by his cockiness, arrogance and distracting off-ice antics, from the Twitter post he made flashing fat stacks on a Las Vegas balcony to the rumours he dined and dashed after meals at fancy restaurants.
Kane wore out the welcome mat for good in Winnipeg after the team benched him for showing up to the rink in a track suit rather than…you know…an actual suit. Shortly after the incident, in which Dustin Byfuglien allegedly threw the forward’s clothes into a shower, the Jets dealt Kane to the Buffalo Sabres (and still have Brendan Lemieux, Tyler Myers and Jack Roslovic to show for it).
Related: The Evander Kane Trade Revisited
Ever since then, Kane has been a player Jets fans love to hate. They cheered when he accidentally slipped on a puck in warm up, threw shade at him by donning sweat suits of their own when he returned for the first time in Jan. 2016 and have booed him every time he’s touched the puck in Winnipeg’s home barn henceforth.
Winnipeg Jets had a "wear your track suits today" 😂😂 Poor Evander Kane pic.twitter.com/oFDmhl1Y3P
— DFO Hockey Roundup (@DFOHockey) January 11, 2016
Kane, who signed a seven-year deal with the San Jose Sharks in the offseason, will return to Bell MTS Place with the rest of his team on Feb. 5. Expect the attendees to show Kane exactly what they think of him once again.
Feb. 22: A Chance for First Vegas Victory
This victory will not be found at a slot machine, craps table or roulette wheel. It will be found only inside T-Mobile Arena. The saying “the house always wins” has rung true so far — the Jets have never won in Sin City. They lost their only regular-season game ever there in Nov. 2017 by a 5-2 score and fell in Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 Western Conference Final by 4-2 and 3-2 scores, respectively.
The Jets will be looking for better luck on Feb. 22 at getting pucks behind Marc-Andre Fleury, whose outstanding performances in the series were integral to the Golden Knights clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. The Jets and Golden Knights have faced off once so far this season, in a Jan. 15 game viewed as a true measuring stick for both sides and long-awaited as the rematch to the 2018 Western Conference Final.
Thanks to opportunistic goals by Kyle Connor and Mathieu Perreault, and a lights-out, 43-save performance from goaltender Laurent Brossoit, the Jets captured a 4-1 victory. In this matchup, they’ll visit Las Vegas for the first time since May and have the chance to win the three-game season series, but they’ll have to play all the right cards.
Feb. 26: Another Shot to Vanquish a Frustrating Foe
The team from the state where the people are supposedly so nice, courteous and agreeable that a term’s been coined for it — has been anything but nice to the Jets this season. The Jets triumphantly conquered the Minnesota Wild in five games in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but are 0-3 against their Central Division rival this season. They’ll face them for the fourth time of the campaign on Feb. 26, their last game of the month.
The Wild have been a true burr in the Jets’ saddle of late. First, they shocked the Jets by erasing a 2-0 third-period deficit en-route to a 4-2 Black Friday victory. In matchups in late December and early January, they did a great job smothering the Jets’ fiery offence, allowing just three total goals. In both games, the Wild did not allow the Jets to generate any speed through the neutral zone and stymied their opponents with a relentless forecheck.
Jets/Wild games have a tendency to be fast, furious and ferocious. Look no further than the Black Friday game in which a big bench brouhaha occurred between Nick Seeler and a handful of Jets players after Adam Lowry caught Joel Eriksson Ek with an elbow.
With the Wild a potential first-round opponent again this spring, you can bet the Jets will have a little extra motivation to prove to outside onlookers — but mostly themselves — that they can beat their closest geographical competitor and overcome their stifling style. This should be a real dandy.
What other Jets games are you hyped up for this month? Comment below.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.