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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 2:38 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets back in action with some ground to make up

WINNIPEG -- A fruitless two-game swing through Vancouver and Calgary followed by a five-day layoff has left the Winnipeg Jets chasing the Eastern Conference pack.

The Jets (32-29-8) last played in Winnipeg on March 5 and finished that night at 72 points, just two points behind the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead. Now the 10th-place Jets trail the Panthers by seven points, and the resurgent Washington Capitals have elbowed their way into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Winnipeg begins a three-game homestand this evening with a visit from the Dallas Stars, who have taken six straight wins and have won 11 of the franchises' 13 all-time meetings. Given that the Jets have only 11 road wins this season and have not shown any indication they will be able to correct their road problems, their stay at home this week has taken on even greater urgency for a club trying to stay above water in the playoff race.

But the Jets will do so without defenseman Zach Bogosian, whose injury woes linger, and right wing Chris Thorburn, who exited the Jets' loss in Calgary and will be out for an extended period of time. Going in for Thorburn on the Jets' checking line will be little-used forward Eric Fehr. Coach Claude Noel has not played Fehr since Feb. 21, and Fehr has only 1 goal this season.

Ondrej Pavelec will again start in net for Winnipeg, with Chris Mason backing up.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Eric Fehr
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Buffalo riding workhorse Miller during improbable run

WINNIPEG -- The Buffalo Sabres' improbable march back into the Eastern Conference playoff race continues tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.

A 6-0-2 run has pulled the Sabres (30-27-8) into ninth place, two points behind the Jets. A regulation win tonight would slide Buffalo ahead of Winnipeg for the East's eighth spot. The Sabres have not occupied eighth place since Dec. 19. The Sabres wrap up their five-game road trip that has criss-crossed North America fresh off a 5-3 win at Vancouver on Saturday night.

"We've been treating every game as a playoff game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

But Ruff expects a tough test in Winnipeg, where the Sabres suffered a 4-1 loss on Jan. 19.

"This team here is one of the better home teams," Ruff said, "and has really played well in this building. We're going to have to play well. We're going to have to execute. We're going to have to make plays."

Ruff will start goaltender Ryan Miller for the 19th time in Buffalo's past 20 games. Miller has spun an 11-2-3 mark over his past 17 games to go with a 1.70 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. The Sabres also expect to regain Robin Regehr, who missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury.

Thanks in no small part to Miller's play, the Sabres have been able to shore up defensive problems that plagued them earlier in the season. The Sabres have allowed only seven goals over their past five games, and Miller ran a 106-minute shutout streak earlier in the road trip.

"I think we're playing much better defensively," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "We're making teams work hard to get their opportunities. I still think we're playing an aggressive style, but we're there to back each other up."

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Sabres:

Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford
Nathan Gerbe - Ville Leino - Patrick Kaleta
Matt Ellis - Brad Boyes - Corey Tropp

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers
Christian Ehrhoff - Robyn Regehr
Andrej Sekera - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth
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Posted On Monday, 03.05.2012 / 2:40 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets can push Sabres back in race for eighth

WINNIPEG -- Every game going forward for the time being is crucial for the Winnipeg Jets.

But now the Jets (31-27-8) have company in tonight's game with the Buffalo Sabres at the MTS Centre that concludes an eight-game homestand. Written off some time ago, the Sabres have rolled off a 6-0-2 run and can pass the Jets tonight with a regulation win and take over eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Jets have managed a 4-1-2 homestand so far, piling up 29 goals in the process, but have yet to be able to put distance between themselves and the Sabres, Washington, Tampa Bay and Toronto. The Florida Panthers have extended their Southeast Division lead over the Jets to four games. Five of Winnipeg’s final 16 games will pit them against Southeast Division clubs still jostling for playoff positioning.

Jets coach Claude Noel knows that his club will be facing a tough Buffalo opponent riding a wave of confidence.

"They're in a good place right now when you watch them play," Noel said. "They look like they play with confidence. They look like they're feeding off their goaltender. They look like they're certainly feeling good about things. They're a dangerous group."

Defenseman Zach Bogosian, who returned for last Thursday's 7-0 win over Florida after a seven-game absence (upper body), will again miss action due to a lower-body injury. Grant Clitsome will make his Jets debut and take Bogosian's spot in a pairing with Ron Hainsey.

Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Jets.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Grant Clitsome
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Panthers have enjoyed success at MTS Centre

WINNIPEG -- The Florida Panthers look to tighten their grip on the Southeast Division lead further tonight when they visit the Winnipeg Jets.

Visiting teams have experienced difficulty in Winnipeg this season, but the Panthers (30-20-12) have found success in Manitoba this season. Along with the New York Islanders, the Panthers are the only team that has come into the MTS Centre and taken two wins this season. The Panthers also have assembled a 5-1-1 mark over seven games in Canada this season.

A regulation win tonight for the Panthers, who have won three straight games, would extend Florida's divisional lead on the Jets to six points and five points on the Washington Capitals. A win would also tie the club's franchise record of five consecutive on the road, set during the 2008-09 season. The 17 points that the Panthers accumulated in February matched a franchise record for the month.

However, the Panthers will be without Kris Versteeg (lower-body injury), who has lit up the Jets for 5 goals in two games on Winnipeg ice this season.

Jose Theodore is expected to start in net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Panthers:

Sean Bergenheim - Stephen Weiss - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Fleischmann - Tomas Kopecky - Wojtek Wolski
Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli - Jack Skille
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Jerred Smithson

Brian Campbell - Jason Garrison
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets face virtual must-win against first-place Panthers

WINNIPEG -- Tonight's date with the Florida Panthers at the MTS Centre figured to be a critical game for the Winnipeg Jets.

But a home loss that featured a third-period meltdown to the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week means that tonight's game takes on even greater importance for the Jets (30-27-8). Winnipeg trails Florida by four points, and the Jets cede three games in hand to the Panthers. A regulation loss would set the ninth-place Jets six points behind Florida and leave them stuck one point behind the eighth-place Washington Capitals, who will also hold three games in hand after tonight.

While eight of the Jets' final 17 games are against Southeast Division opponents, a season-high eight-game homestand has yielded Winnipeg wins in only three of its first six games. The Jets will have a rare weekend off before concluding the homestand against the Buffalo Sabres early next week.

Aiding Winnipeg will be the return of defenseman Zach Bogosian after an upper-body injury cost him a seven-game absence. With Bogosian's return, the Jets, who have lost 244 man-games to injury this season, have a completely healthy roster. Newcomer Grant Clitsome, whom the Jets acquired via waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, will not dress.

Ondrej Pavelec is expected to start in net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Zach Bogosian - Ron Hainsey
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Monday, 02.27.2012 / 2:24 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gilbert trade a surprise for Oilers

WINNIPEG -- The Edmonton Oilers planned to be without injured defenseman Tom Gilbert for tonight's date with the Winnipeg Jets.

What the Oilers (24-31-6) did not expect was to wrap up their morning skate at the MTS Centre with the news that they would be without the well-liked Gilbert for good. Edmonton management shipped Gilbert to the Minnesota Wild for blueliner Nick Schultz. Gilbert's name had not been linked in previous trade rumors, making the trade all the more surprising for his teammates.

Schultz must still pass a team physical, Oilers coach Tom Renney said, and he will not dress for the Oilers against the Jets. Renney spoke by phone to Gilbert, who did not make the trip to Winnipeg.

"Kudos to Tom Gilbert for being an outstanding teammate, obviously, and a really solid NHL defenseman, and one that his teammates and the coaching staff will miss," Renney said. "He brought everything that he could every day to the rink for us, and we certainly appreciate that and wish him real good luck going forward."

Former Winnipeg Jet Nikolai Khabibulin was hoping to dress for tonight's game, but a lingering groin injury will sideline him. Yann Danis will back up starter Devan Dubnyk.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Oilers:

Ryan Smyth - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Jones - Shawn Horcoff - Ben Eager
Lennart Petrell - Eric Belanger - Darcy Hordichuk

Ryan Whitney - Corey Potter
Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Andy Sutton - Cam Barker

Devan Dubnyk
Yann Danis
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Posted On Monday, 02.27.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets add Clitsome, turn focus to Oilers

WINNIPEG -- The NHL trade deadline talk dominated the MTS Centre, but the Winnipeg Jets have a playoff race to focus on, first and foremost.

The Jets (30-26-8) continue their eight-game homestand with a visit from the Edmonton Oilers, the city's long-time Smythe Division nemesis during its first NHL era. Eighth-place Winnipeg is two points behind the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead and yields three games in hand to Kevin Dineen's club. The Jets and Panthers will meet in Winnipeg on Thursday.

Coach Claude Noel admits that combining the trade deadline and a game-day routine is a complicated mix, particularly inside a dressing room that he says has solid team chemistry.

"It's a tough day for players for a lot of different reasons," Noel said. "I think our chemistry is great, and that is always the fear."

Defenseman Zach Bogosian will be a game-time decision for the Jets.

The Jets also added defenseman Grant Clitsome via waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Noel does not expect that Clitsome will be available for action against the Oilers. The 26-year-old Clitsome registered 4 goals and 14 points in 51 games this season and was in the Columbus organization when Noel worked with the Blue Jackets.

"You can never have enough defenseman," Noel said.

Ondrej Pavelec, who had a game off in Saturday afternoon's 3-2 shootout loss to St. Louis, will return again to the Winnipeg net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Tim Stapleton - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Johnny Oduya - Ron Hainsey
Randy Jones - Mark Stuart

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Friday, 02.24.2012 / 6:40 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets ready for tough test from Blues

WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets might finally control the Southeast Division's top spot, but the challenges will keep coming for coach Claude Noel's club.

The St. Louis Blues visit the MTS Centre on Saturday afternoon and will present the Jets with another stiff challenge in the fifth of a season-long eight-game homestand. The Jets are 3-0-1 during their current stay at home and sit one point ahead of the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead.

"It will be a really good challenge for our team," Noel said of his team's final game before the NHL Trade Deadline. "They've got a pretty good team. They've got some good elements when you look at their team."

"It's very clear that they will manage the puck well and will check, check, check," Noel said of the Blues. "You're going to have earn every inch of ice, especially up the ice."

Noel will be matching up against Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, his long-time mentor in the Dallas and Columbus organizations.

"It will be interesting. That's good. It raises the bar, makes it fun," he said.

Noel said after practice on Friday that he has not yet determined his starting goaltender for Saturday's game. Ondrej Pavelec has started Winnipeg's past four games, including a 55-shot barrage from the Philadelphia Flyers this past Tuesday night.

"There are a lot of reasons why you wouldn't want to move off Pavelec," Noel said.

Zach Bogosian will miss his sixth consecutive game on the Winnipeg blue line. What was expected to be a brief absence has lasted longer than expected, and he will not return until at least next week, Noel said.

The Jets also placed forward Antti Miettinen on waivers on Friday. Winnipeg claimed the Finnish veteran on waivers from Tampa Bay on Dec. 13, but the move has not panned out for the Jets. Miettinen has not scored, managed just four assists and been a healthy scratch four times.

"I think that with Miettinen I would like to see more of his play, a little bit better play," Noel said. "I've spoken with him about that."

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Posted On Friday, 02.24.2012 / 6:37 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues are all smiles as they prepare for Jets

WINNIPEG -- The St. Louis Blues landed in Winnipeg early on Friday morning feeling good about themselves.

The Blues (37-17-7) earned a 3-2 shootout win on the road against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in a bounce-back effort after a tough home loss to the Boston Bruins a night earlier. The win leaves St. Louis 7-3-0 in its past 10 games.

"To come back and get two points off a back-to-back was really impressive for us," coach Ken Hitchcock said after the Blues practiced at the MTS Centre on Friday afternoon in preparation for Saturday's matinee against the Winnipeg Jets.

Leaving previous efforts in the past, be they wins or losses, has been strength for the Blues this season, Hitchcock explained. The veteran coach attributes the club's ability to recover and refocus on a strong veteran core that includes Jason Arnott, Barret Jackman and Jamie Langenbrunner.

"I think the young guys have responded," Hitchcock said of the role that the veteran leadership plays inside the St. Louis dressing room.

"We're different from a lot of teams in that our skill base is all young," Hitchcock said. "It's a young core. We're asking a lot of 22- and 23-year-old players to carry the day emotionally and physically. So, it has been trying at times for them, and the veteran guys have really helped those guys stabilize."

Now the Blues find themselves in Winnipeg to begin the Western Canada leg of a six-game trip. The MTS Centre has quickly become one of the most difficult buildings for visiting clubs. With the Jets entrenched in the heart of the Eastern Conference playoff race, Hitchcock expects an imposing environment for his club.

"They've got a great feel in the building," Hitchcock said of the Jets, who have won 19 of their 31 home dates this season. "We've got to find a way to pull the crowd out of the building if we can. It's going to be hard to do, but I think the teams that have a little bit of success here quiet the crowd down."

"One way that you can to do that is to make them play defense," Hitchcock continued. "We're going to come with a heavy, hard forecheck and see where we go."

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Posted On Friday, 02.24.2012 / 10:40 AM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flood's return to lineup eases burden on Jets' defense

WINNIPEG -- Zach Bogosian's continued absence finally meant an entry into the Winnipeg Jets' lineup for Mark Flood.

The injured Bogosian missed the Jets' 4-3 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, his fifth consecutive absence. Randy Jones had replaced Bogosian on the Winnipeg blue line. Flood continued to remain a healthy scratch and before playing the Lightning had not dressed for a game since Jan. 19.

But Jets coach Claude Noel opted to go with seven defensemen against Tampa Bay and scratch forwards Eric Fehr and Antti Miettinen. A chaotic 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night had left the Winnipeg defense corps drained, and neither Fehr nor Miettinen has shown any indication of breaking loose of their season-long slumps.

Returning Flood to game action has been an objective for Noel in recent days. The Jets are loathe to attempt slipping Flood through the NHL waiver wire in order to assign him to the St. John's IceCaps, their AHL affiliate. Playing both Flood and Jones also allows the Jets to showcase one of the two for a potential trade before the NHL's Monday deadline, though Noel shooed away any such speculation on Thursday morning.

Flood stepped into the lineup and allowed the Winnipeg coaching staff to dial down the minutes that their workhorse defensemen had to play. Dustin Byfuglien, who played 26:51 against Philadelphia, logged a more manageable 20:32 with Flood available to provide blue-line relief. Ron Hainsey's ice time decreased from 24:24 on Tuesday to 19:51 against the Lightning.

Flood finished with 9:03 of ice time and assisted on the Jets' second goal.
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Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres