WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets have pinpointed December's home-heavy slate as a critical segment of their season.
A pair of wins last week against the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils served as key points for a team looking to establish a home-ice presence in its first season at the MTS Centre.
Now the Jets, 7-4-0 at home this season, face their biggest test of the season at the MTS Centre tonight when the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins make their first visit to Winnipeg this season. The Bruins bring a 7-2-0 road mark into Winnipeg after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Monday and have not lost away from home since Oct. 29.
Jets coach Claude Noel watched a portion of last night's Bruins-Penguins game and was asked for his take on what he saw.
"I took out of it that Boston is a good team," Noel replied to laughs from the assembled media. "And I knew that before I watched that game."
"It's going to be an interesting game for us," Noel added. "They've got depth. Who doesn't scare you on that team?"
The Jets' top line of Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler continue to drive the Winnipeg offense. Kane has 6 goals in his last five games, 9 goals and 12 points in his last nine games, and owns a five-game point-scoring streak. Wheeler and Little, two important cogs who experienced very slow starts to their seasons, have four- and three-game point streaks, respectively.
"They've got some size on that line, especially on the wings," Noel said of his top trio.
The line has been defensively reliable, and Noel surmises that Kane has helped to draw out the speed Little and Wheeler possess.
"I didn't see the speed in Wheeler and Little before that I do now," he said. "It's been a really good asset for us."
Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for Winnipeg tonight, the 18th time in the team's last 19 games that he will received the starting nod.
Forwards Nik Antropov and Eric Fehr remain sidelined by injury and will not dress, while defensemen Ron Hainsey, Derek Meech, Randy Jones and Tobias Enstrom also are out with injuries.
The Jets returned defenseman Brett Festerling to the St. John's IceCaps of the American Hockey League and reclaimed center Ben Maxwell on waivers from the Anaheim Ducks and assigned him to St. John's.
Here are tonight’s projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg.
Evander Kane - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Alexander Burmistrov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater- Chris Thorburn
Jason Jaffray - Tim Stapleton - Carl Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart - Zach Bogosian
Arturs Kulda - Mark Flood
Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Jets, with Chris Mason backing up.
With the Bruins having played last night, they didn't skate today. If they don't change things -- and with their current 14-0-1 stretch, why would they? -- here's what their lineup could look like:
Tyler Seguin - Patrice Bergeron - Brad Marchand
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Joe Corvo - Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid
With Tim Thomas starting last night, it's likely he'll be the backup and Tuukka Rask will start tonight.
For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.