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Game Day Preview: Jets @ Oilers

The Winnipeg Jets kick off their 2013’14 Regular Season campaign tonight on the road against the Edmonton Oilers in a game that will be broadcast nationally on CBC television (9:00 p.m. CST).

Rexall Place

When: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Time: 9:00 p.m. CST

Where: Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta

Records: Winnipeg (0-0-0), Edmonton (0-0-0)

Television/Radio: CBC/TSN 1290 Radio

The Story:   The Winnipeg Jets kick off their 2013’14 Regular Season campaign tonight on the road against the Edmonton Oilers in a game that will be broadcast nationally on CBC television (9:00 p.m. CST).

This season has taken on increased importance for the Jets as they will be trying to make the playoffs for the first time since relocating from Atlanta, Georgia prior to the 2011’12 season. General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was a busy man this past off-season and made several moves to address perceived weaknesses in his team’s line-up. Cheveldayoff acquired Michael Frolik from the Chicago Blackhawks in late-June to address his team’s penalty killing woes while also acquiring Devin Setoguchi from the Minnesota Wild in July to improve his team’s lack of secondary scoring up front. Winger Matt Halischuk and defenceman Adam Pardy were also signed to one-year contracts to increase the team’s toughness and depth.

Despite all the new faces, the Jets struggled mightily during their eight pre-season games, compiling a record of 1-4-3, including back-to-back losses to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins. If the Jets want their fortunes to change this season, they must show a greater commitment to team defense, a sore spot during last year’s lockout-shortened season (Winnipeg ranked 25th overall in the NHL last season in average goals against per game). There is optimism in Peg City however as highly touted 2012 1st round draft pick Jacob Trouba is expected to play a significant role in improving the Jets defense corps along with the leaner (and hopefully meaner) Dustin Byfuglien.

Up front, the Jets will once again be led by number-1 unit of Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little but it is the aforementioned Setoguchi and rookie Mark Scheifele who be looked upon for secondary offense. For now, it looks like Head Coach Claude Noel will use Scheifele in between Evander Kane and Setoguchi on the team’s second line. A productive rookie season from Scheifele would certainly go a long way in helping the Jets reach the playoffs.

Goaltending is another area that has to get better this season. 26-year-old Ondrej Pavelec played more minutes than any other goaltender in the NHL last season (2,554 mins in 44 games) but he struggled with consistency down the stretch. Pavelec has four years remaining on his current contract and he will be counted on to play the majority of games again this year.

The Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, had the best pre-season record in the Pacific Division at 5-2-1. They are missing two key forwards heading into tonight’s season opener as 2011 1st overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery while Sam Gagner is out indefinitely with a broken jaw.

Because of the injuries to Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner, Taylor Hall will start the season playing centre on the team’s top line, joined by Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth on his wings. Hall is coming off a spectacular year in which he registered 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) in 44 games. He will be counted on for offense again this season and he should be motivated as he is a serious contender to be picked for Team Canada at the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

On defense, there are two new faces in the Oilers lineup this season. Andrew Ference was signed to a four-year contract in the off-season and will help a group that was below average last season. 27-year-old Russian defenseman Anton Belov was signed as a free agent after spending the last five years with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Devan Dubnyk will start in net for the Oilers tonight.

Winnipeg Jets Line Combinations:

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Devin Setoguchi
James Wright-Olli Jokinen-Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn

Tobias Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien
Jacob Trouba-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavelec
Al Montoya

Healthy Scratches: Anthony Peluso, Matt Halischuk, Adam Pardy

Edmonton Oilers Line Combinations:

Ryan Smyth-Taylor Hall-Ales Hemsky
David Perron-Mark Arcobello-Jordan Eberle
Jesse Joensuu–Boyd Gordon-Nail Yakupov
Ben Eager-Will Acton-Mike Brown

Ladislav Smid-Jeff Petry
Andrew Ference-Justin Schultz
Nick Schultz-Anton Belov

Devan Dubnyk
Jason LaBarbera

Healthy Scratches: Luke Gazdic

Injury Report:

Edmonton Oilers:  Sam Gagner (jaw), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder), Corey Potter (back), Denis Grebeshkov (groin), Steve MacIntyre (knee)

Winnipeg Jets:  Grant Clitsome (lower body)

QUICKIES….On Monday, the Jets re-assigned Patrice Cormier and Zach Redmond to the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League…..Defenceman Grant Clitsome was placed on the 7-Day injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, September 26, 2013……Jacob Trouba will wear #8 this season. He had previously been wearing #3 during the pre-season…..