Around the League
If the Winnipeg Jets miss the playoffs, they can pretty much blame Dustin Byfuglien’s ill advised cross-check to the back of J.T. Miller for that.
Paul Maurice’s squad has quickly established a reputation for playing physical and playing fast, and Byfuglien really epitomizes that style as the league’s most unstoppable player. Byfuglien’s not quick, but he picks his spots well on defense, and once he makes a few strides and gains some momentum, he’s basically the Juggernaut. He’s a Corsi darling, too, for those who believe he’s simply intimidating and not altogether effective with the puck on his stick, and ranks behind only wunderkind teammate Jacob Trouba in that regard this season on the team.
With news coming Thursday that Big Buff was handed a four-game suspension, it ensures that he won’t return until the season finale against Calgary, and with the Kings destroying the Oilers last night, 8-2, the Jets are suddenly on the outside looking in.
The Kings’ win last night meant they moved into a tie with the Jets with 90 points apiece, but the Kings own the tiebreaker with more ROW (regulation/overtime wins), 36-32. According to sportsclubstats.com, the Kings’ win increased their chances of making the playoffs by 11.7 percent, but the Flames that took the brunt of that swing, seeing their playoff chances drop by 10 percent. That’s mostly because the Kings and Flames are fighting for a divisional playoff spot in the Pacific Division, while the Jets can only make the playoffs by clinching a wild card spot with the three divisional seeds in the Central Division already decided. (The Jets have five games to play and trail the Blackhawks by 10 points, but the Blackhawks already hold the edge in ROW, 38-32).
The Jets also have a slightly harder schedule, facing St. Louis and Minnesota, and the Kings have a decent chance of running the table and going 5-0 to finish the season. The Canucks and Flames both have upcoming games against the lowly Coyotes and Oilers, though it’s a good thing the Canucks have a bit of a cushion because they’re always somehow worse playing against lesser teams.
Byfuglien’s moment of weakness may very well end up being the biggest turning point of the season for the Jets. Without him, they lack a big minutes eater who can punish the opposition at both ends of the ice, whether it’s with his thundering hits or goal scoring. There’s no real way to prove it other than pointing out key stats or highlighting key plays, but one thing for sure is that no Big Buff means one less thing opposition coaches have to worry about. Grant Clitsome, Ben Chiarot and Paul Postma remain sidelined, so some of the depth has already been depleted.
Even with all other key players healthy, the Jets don’t seem as intimidating without Byfuglien, and to win they’ll need all of their forwards to pull more weight, especially down the middle with Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry, in a division that features David Backes/Paul Stastny/Jori Lehtera and also Jonathan Toews, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher and Mikael Granlund.
The main hope is still Tyler Myers, and if he can carry the Jets as he has done for the past few games, could suddenly vault himself back into a conversation of potential future Norris Trophy winners. It’s not that Myers was particularly bad in Buffalo, often winning the praise of Ted Nolan, but it doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to see that players perform better when they’re surrounded by better talent. Since joining the Jets, the 6-foot-8 rearguard has 13 points in 20 games and a plus-6 rating.
There are no real playoff implications for Friday night’s slate, except for Chicago potentially grabbing home ice advantage in the first round with a win and Dallas potentially improving their playoff chances, however slight they may be.
Very quickly ranking the goalies playing Friday night: Darling, Tokarski, Elliott, Andersen, Niemi, Berra, Smith, Kinkaid, Lehtonen and Lindback.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Chicago Blackhawks (Scott Darling) at Buffalo Sabres (Anders Lindback), 7:00 PM
Montreal Canadiens (Dustin Tokarski) at New Jersey Devils (Keith Kinkaid*), 7:00 PM
St. Louis Blues (Brian Elliott) at Dallas Stars (Kari Lehtonen), 8:30 PM
Colorado Avalanche (Reto Berra*) at Anaheim Ducks (Frederik Andersen), 10:00 PM
Arizona Coyotes (Mike Smith) at San Jose Sharks (Antti Niemi), 10:00 PM
* = confirmed
Injury News For Teams Playing Friday
Trevor van Riemsdyk, D (upper body) – no return date set.
Patrick Kane, RW (broken collarbone) – will return in the playoffs.
Daniel Carcillo, LW (upper body) – will not play.
Joakim Nordstrom, C (upper body) – did not play Thursday; questionable.
Jerry D'Amigo, RW (facial surgery) – out for the season.
Evander Kane, LW (shoulder surgery) – out for the season.
Mark Pysyk, D (undetermined) – likely out for the season.
Zemgus Girgensons, C (ankle) – likely out for the season.
Josh Gorges, D (lower body) – no return date set.
Matt Hackett, G (knee) – no return date set.
Chad Johnson, G (lower body) – no return date set.
Cody McCormick, C (leg) – skated Thursday; no return date set.
New Jersey Devils
Stephen Gionta, C (lower back) – will not play.
Bryce Salvador, D (back) – likely out for the season.
Ryane Clowe, LW (concussion) – out for the season.
St. Louis Blues
Alexander Steen, LW (lower body) – did not play Thursday; questionable.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW (lower body) – did not play Thursday; questionable.
Rich Peverley, C (chest) – no timetable for return.
Shawn Horcoff, C (illness) – did not practice Thursday; questionable.
Jordie Benn, D (back) – game-time decision; probable.
Jamie McGinn, LW (back) – out for the season.
Ryan Wilson, D (shoulder surgery) – out for the season.
Erik Johnson, D (knee) – no return date set.
Daniel Briere, RW (foot) – no return date set.
Borna Rendulic, RW (broken leg) – no return date set.
Nathan MacKinnon, C (fractured foot) – out 6-8 weeks.
Patrick Bordeleau, LW (knee) – skated Tuesday; questionable.
Jesse Winchester, LW (concussion) – game-time decision; questionable.
Tim Jackman, RW (lower body) – resumed skating; no return date set.
Clayton Stoner, D (lower body) – will not play.
Matt Beleskey, LW (lower body) – did not play Wednesday; questionable.
Martin Hanzal, C (back surgery) – out for the season.
Lauri Korpikoski, LW (mouth) – will not play.
Mikkel Boedker, LW (ruptured spleen) – skated Monday; no return date set.
San Jose Sharks
Raffi Torres, LW (torn right ACL) – out for the season.
Mirco Mueller, D (thumb) – likely out for the season.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D (lower body) – did not play Wednesday; questionable.
Scott Hannan, D (face) – game-time decision; questionable.
Logan Couture, C, Sharks – With two points in a 5-1 win over Colorado, Couture now has six points in his past four games, a plus-4 rating and 18 shots on goal, trying his darndest to get the Sharks into the playoffs. With two games upcoming, both against Arizona, Couture is in prime position to build on his streak. The sad part is that despite Couture’s efforts there’s still a very good chance the Sharks miss the playoffs.
Brian Gionta, RW, Sabres – It’s true the Sabres are gunning for Connor McDavid, but perhaps all the cynics in Buffalo booing their home team has really rubbed Gionta the wrong way. The Sabres captain has four multi-point games in his past five games, and has also averaged well over 21 minutes a game over the past month. He’s firing the puck at a pretty high rate, including back-to-back games with seven shots on goal, though it’ll be tough to do with upcoming games against the Blackhawks and Islanders.
Kari Lehtonen, G, Stars – Lehtonen seems to go ice cold at the worst possible times, and with the Stars still fighting for a playoff spot has allowed at least three goals in his past five appearances. He has won three of his past five games, but all three were one-goal games and offense still remains the team’s greatest strength.
Valtteri Filppula, C, Lightning – The Finnish utility center has 39 points in 47 games when the Lightning win, but just nine points in 32 games when they lose, and the Lightning have lost four of their past five. After scoring 19 points in 24 games to start the season, he scored just three points in 15 games in March. Do you see what I’m getting at? Though he’s a great player, passing both the eye test and advanced metrics, he’s not exactly concerned with scoring goals, and this mindset unfortunately hurts his fantasy value.
Cam Atkinson, RW, Blue Jackets – Yours truly has a soft spot for small guys who can really score, and the former two-time 30-goal scorer from Boston College is on a tear with four games in his past four games and assists in three of his past five. He’s just notched his second consecutive 20-goal season and should be a strong play down the stretch as the Jackets prepare to play spoiler. He’s not Johnny Gaudreau but he’s a legit sniper in his onw right. The team just set a record for wins in March with 11.