You know what they say… second time’s the charm, right? Okay, maybe that’s not quite right, but hopefully that’ll be the case for the Winnipeg Jets as they face the Washington Capitals this Friday (Dec. 23) for the second time this season.
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The Jets who are coming off a 3-2 loss against the Boston Bruins are hoping to win the second half of a back-to-back as they step onto Capitals’ home ice at Capital One Arena. Meanwhile, the Capitals are hoping to extend their three game winning streak to four. The last time these two teams met, the Capitals clinched a win beating the Jets, 5-2. This Friday, the Jets are seeking redemption. Let’s take a look at the projected lines, standout storylines, and players to watch heading into tonight’s game.
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
Kyle Connor – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Sam Gagner
Karson Kuhlman – Mark Scheifele – Cole Perfetti
Jansen Harkins – Adam Lowry – Morgan Barron
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby – Kevin Stenlund – David Gustafsson
Dylan DeMelo – Josh Morrissey
Neal Pionk – Dylan Samberg
Brenden Dillon – Ville Heinola
Washington Capitals Projected Lines:
Alex Ovechkin – Dylan Strome – Conor Sheary
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Anthony Mantha
Sonny Milano – Lars Eller – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Garnet Hathaway – Nic Dowd – Aliaksei Protas
Nick Jensen – Dmitry Orlov
John Carlson – Erik Gustafsson
Trevor van Riemsdyk – Matt Irwin
Connor Hellebuyck Returns After Fighting Illness
One of the Jets’ main concerns lately has been the health of their steady goalie Connor Hellebuyck. The Michigan-native was out with a non-COVID-related illness for Tuesday’s matchup against the Ottawa Senators (Dec. 20). However, he seemed to recover quite quickly as he travelled with the Jets to Boston on Thursday (Dec. 22) and started in net as they faced the Bruins that night. Unfortunately, the Jets fell by one, losing 3-2.
Prior to the Bruins game, the last time Hellebuyck was between the posts was on Dec. 17 against the Vancouver Canucks when the Jets won, 5-1. Taking over his spot in the meantime was backup goalie David Rittich. The 30-year-old has played eight games this season, registering five wins and three losses. When it was announced Hellbuyck was out with an illness for the Senators matchup, Rittich did what needed to be done that night and led the Jets to a 5-1 win.
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With Hellebuyck’s .928 save percentage (SV%), this statistic places him in third in the NHL. His performance this season has been impeccable, putting him in the Vezina conversation for this season. While Rittich is expected to have the start in goal tonight, it was great to see Hellebuyck back in action.
Alexander Ovechkin One Goal Shy of Gordie Howe’s Record
The Capitals’ captain has been in a slight scoring slump—an unlikely narrative for the 37-year-old. Alexander Ovechkin has been without a goal in his last four games. His last time recording a goal was when he earned a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 13. And while the main point of conversation around Ovechkin has been him potentially beating Wayne Gretzky’s goal record of 894, he is one goal away from overtaking another hockey legend along the way.
Gordie Howe holds the record for the second-most NHL career goals of all time with 801. Heading into tonight’s matchup, Ovechkin is sitting at 800 goals.
While four games without a goal isn’t much of a goal drought, it is something to keep an eye on as he only needs one to match Howe’s record. In the Capitals’ matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 17, his teammates tried to give Ovechkin many chances to reach goal No. 801, but he just couldn’t capitalize on them. His teammates are optimistic that he will reach Howe’s record soon enough. “It’ll come, for sure,” said Capitals’ centreman Evgeny Kuznetsov, “There is no doubt.”
Related: Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin and the Goalies They Scored On (A Lot)
Ovechkin leads the Capitals in goals (20), points (38), shots (150), power-play goals (7) and power-play points (15). It’s only a matter of time until he surpasses the 800-goal mark.
Players to Watch
A powerhouse on the ice—Kyle Connor is a must-watch in tonight’s game. The 17th-overall 2015 draft pick just came off a 10-game point streak, which came to a halt after he didn’t register a point against the Bruins in yesterday’s game (Dec. 22). During the streak, he tallied seven goals and 10 assists.
Connor has 38 points (one behind Josh Morrissey with the team-leading total), 14 power-play points (tied for first place on the team with Morrissey and Pierre-Luc Dubois), the most game-winning goals on the team (five), and the most shots on the Jets with 116. In his seventh season wearing the Jets’ crest, Connor is not slowing down anytime soon.
Capitals’ defenseman Erik Gustafsson is someone to look out for in tonight’s matchup. The Swede has earned six points in his last three games. With four goals on the season, all of them were scored in two games within the last week. Gustafsson became the third defenseman in franchise history to register a hat trick after scoring three against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 17. When asked about his hat trick, he said, “When you’re kind of feeling it, you just shoot the puck and tonight it went in.”
On Monday (Dec. 19) against the Red Wings, he earned another goal and one assist. He continued the point streak as he tallied another assist against the Senators yesterday (Dec. 22). The 30-year-old seems to be having quite a few good nights lately, so we’ll see if he can extend his point streak to four games tonight.
Tune in tonight at 7 p.m. EST tonight to see if the Capitals will extend their game winning streak to four, or if the Jets will come out on top.