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At the Rink blog

December run has Jets in playoff position

Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:00 PM

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

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets wind down their long month at home with a date tonight against the Los Angeles Kings at the MTS Centre.

The Jets (17-14-5) have played on home ice for 10 of their 12 games this month and will wrap up their home stretch against the Kings and a New Year's Eve meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Jets' 7-2-1 run at home this month has fueled their climb up the Eastern Conference standings. Tuesday's 4-1 win at Colorado pushed Winnipeg into a playoff spot for the first time this season. The Jets now sit in eighth place with 39 points, just two points behind the sixth-place New Jersey Devils and six points behind the Florida Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division.

Jets coach Claude Noel does not expect an easy evening against the Kings. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will miss his second consecutive game due to an injury, and Bryan Little will not dress for his fifth consecutive game. Center Jim Slater is also a game-time decision, so the Jets recalled center Patrice Cormier from their American League affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps, as a precautionary move.

"This won't be an easy game for us," Noel said. "We do realize that this is their third [game] in four nights. We're going to have to find a way to make them work. But if they've got the puck, we’ll be doing most of the work trying to get it off them."

Noel will give goaltender Ondrej Pavelec a rare night off and start veteran Chris Mason. The start will be only the fourth for Mason since Nov. 25. Pavelec turned in another stout performance on Tuesday against the Avalanche, but Noel said that the Czech netminder needs a night off at some point.

"If Pavelec continues to play the way he plays," Noel said, "when would you ever take him out? He'd end up playing in 82 games. You could never justify taking him out, so you have to manage the minutes."

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg.

JETS

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

Mark Stuart - Zach Bogosian
Ron Hainsey - Johnny Oduya
Mark Flood - Tobias Enstrom

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery