The New York Rangers look for their third straight win to start the season when they visit the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.
The Jets, eager to put a disappointing 2021-22 campaign behind them, are one of the last teams to begin their season.
After making the Western Conference finals as recently as 2018, the Jets slipped to 39-32-11 a season ago, finishing sixth in the Central Division. Coach Paul Maurice resigned in December and replacement Dave Lowry was unable to spur the team into the playoffs.
In July, Winnipeg hired Rick Bowness, who began his coaching career in the Jets minor league system and later served as assistant with the team. He finished the 1988-89 season after Dan Maloney was fired and went 8-17-3. Now — after stints with the Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, then-Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars — he is back.
So far Bowness has preached aggression and accountability, and his moves have included stripping 36-year-old Blake Wheeler of his captaincy. The Jets went 4-1-1 in the preseason.
“When you miss the playoffs, you’re anxious to get back on the ice,” Bowness said. “So, we had that working to our advantage; everyone was ready to go in camp. The attitudes, the work habits, the coming to the rink ready to work has been outstanding since Day 1.”
The Winnipeg cupboard was not bare. Bowness inherited a team that includes Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, and 47-goal scorer Kyle Connor. Nikolaj Ehlers produced 55 points (28 goals, 27 assists) in 62 games a season ago and Mark Scheifele averaged at least a point a game (70 points in 67 games) for the sixth straight season.
Now the Jets welcome a Rangers team playing the second of back-to-backs.
“You can look at it both ways: They could come in (Friday) and be tired since it’s the second game in two nights or they could be more into it,” Winnipeg’s Pierre-Luc Dubois said. “The only thing we can do is concentrate on ourselves and how we’re going to be ready for the game.”
New York, which appears to be picking up where it left off following its surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals a year ago, rolls into Winnipeg after a 7-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
Artemi Panarin tallied a goal and three assists and Chris Kreider scored twice. Adam Fox and Vincent Trocheck each notched a goal and an assist, and Alexis Lafreniere and Mika Zibanejad each added two assists.
“That’s what we see with our lineup,” New York coach Gerard Gallant said. “There’s a lot of skill and talent there; and, as long as we work hard, we’ll get scoring from all over the place.”
It was the 21-year-old Lafreniere’s first multi-assist game in the NHL.
Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves, including holding the Wild at bay as they outshot the Rangers 12-2 in the early going.
Goalie Jaroslav Halak likely will make his Rangers debut against Winnipeg in the second of back-to-backs.
–Field Level Media