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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Daily Debate: How high can the Jets soar this season?

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun



Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun talk about the soaring Jets and the struggling Capitals.

Burnside: Greetings, my friend. Lovely day here in Los Angeles, where I will see the Kings hook up with the red-hot Minnesota Wild when they arrive in town for their tilt at the Staples Center on Thursday night. But this morning, we're going to talk about another rather shocking squad, the Winnipeg Jets. At the start of the season, I figured the transplanted Jets would sort of meander through this season as new management and coaching staff and city all got used to each other. Plus there was the dreadful history they dragged with them from Atlanta to Winnipeg.

But Tuesday night, they shocked the NHL's hottest team, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, 2-1. That was the first regulation loss in 16 games for the Bruins, who look like they have repeat on the brain. But the Jets hunkered down and played tough against the cream of the Eastern Conference. They've now won three in a row and seven of their past 10. The goaltending and defense seem to be coming around after some pretty wacky moments through the first quarter of the season. As of this writing, they are but one point out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and you have to commend Claude Noel for keeping his team on track when it could have gone completely sideways.

LeBrun: So you’re in sunny SoCal and I’m freezing my butt off in Toronto. Something’s wrong here. Speaking of freezing, yes, let’s touch on Winnipeg. I’m not sure I’ve heard an NHL crowd that loud or passionate all season than what was on display at the MTS Centre last night. There are going to be growing pains as the Jets build this team, but it’s nights like Tuesday that remind you just why it was the right call to put a team back in Manitoba.

“It’s a very appreciate crowd,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told me this morning. “They’re very, very excited. Last night’s entertainment value was a high as you can get, and they certainly let both teams know it.”

You mentioned the roll the Jets are on. And it comes with some key parts missing through injury.

“The thing that’s most impressive to me is that we’re doing it without [Tobias] Enstrom, without [Ron] Hainsey, without [Nik] Antropov, without [Eric] Fehr -- on any given night it’s been a different group of guys delivering,” Cheveldayoff said. “Last night it was [Andrew] Ladd and [Byran] Little. [Evander] Kane has been going well; [Alexander] Burmistrov has been playing well. The young core; it’s something that we hoped that by giving them the opportunity to grow that they’ll continue to grow in that fashion.”

Burmistrov had a sweet move that resulted in a scoring chance, taking a pass and guiding the puck between his legs a la Alexander Mogilny.

I can’t imagine how loud it’s going to be in Winnipeg if the Jets actually make the playoffs. I’ll be packing ear plugs if I’m covering that one.

Burnside: Evander Kane has 14 goals, the fourth-best total in the NHL right now, but the guy for me who is most interesting is Bryan Little. This is a guy who was the 12th-overall pick in the '06 draft and somehow managed to collect 31 goals in 2008-09 before becoming absolutely invisible in Atlanta, where it took him the next two seasons to get 31. He struggled under different coaches and looked like a guy who would never get back to an elite level. But he now has points in nine of his past 10 games. As Cheveldayoff pointed out, on a young team, you're looking for guys to step up and assume leadership roles. It's not all on Andrew Ladd's shoulders. Can't be. Little's play is one of the main reasons the Jets are part of the payoff discussion as we head into the second third of the season.

Now, one of the scary moments out of Tuesday night was Kevin Porter's knee on Vancouver forward David Booth. Booth, acquired from Florida earlier this season, went down and looked to be in significant pain after the knee-on-knee. Ouch. Booth had shown some signs of getting into a groove in Vancouver. Had a three-point night recently and had 12 points in 19 games and got his plus/minus more or less under control (he is minus-1 as a Canuck). Paging Dr. Shanahan. Paging Dr. Shanahan.

LeBrun: Booth was scheduled to have an MRI performed Wednesday. I certainly didn’t like the look of that hit. The league will definitely take a look at it -- the league reviews all controversial plays -- although whether Sheriff Shanny believes it’s worth a hearing was still undetermined as of this morning when I checked with the league. Shanahan was still on the West Coast, having left the Board of Governors meeting in Pebble Beach and taking in the Wild-Sharks game in San Jose last night. Interestingly, Shanahan had to review tape this week of Booth colliding with Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff from Sunday night’s game and ultimately felt Booth did enough to try to avoid the hit so he deemed it not worthy of supplemental discipline.

It's interesting, by the way, that Porter and Booth are actually good friends, both Michigan boys who have known each other for a long time. The last thing Porter would have wanted to do is injure him, but it's a fast game and clearly Porter made the wrong decision.''

Burnside: OK, before I leave you, let's take a quick peek at an interesting clash tonight between Washington and Ottawa. The surprising Sens actually hold down eighth place in the Eastern Conference as we speak. And the reeling Caps have won just three of their past 12 and are two points back in 11th. The only win the Caps have since replacing Bruce Boudreau (who got his first win as head coach in Anaheim with a last-minute goal Tuesday night) was an overtime victory over Ottawa. Both teams have struggled defensively with Ottawa 29th in goals allowed and the Caps a shocking 26th.

But for me, the Caps are going nowhere until Dale Hunter finds a way to get something out of more than Alexander Ovechkin or Alexander Semin. Can't believe GM George McPhee will wait much longer before trying to make a move and the talented but streaky Semin seems to be the prime option. With Semin, it may be a case of addition by subtraction if they can find a taker for his $6.7 million contract that is up at the end of this season.

LeBrun: Hunter reunited Semin and Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom in practice Tuesday, so we’ll see whether that unit gets to play together. Semin missed the past two games with a shoulder injury. The coaching change so far hasn’t had the immediate impact McPhee would have hoped for. And I agree with you: My sense is that if this continues, the GM won’t be shy to shake this roster up with a move or two. The pressure’s on, and McPhee isn’t going to sit back and do nothing if this thing gets out of hand.

Enjoy L.A., my friend.