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Back on the road, Jets have Stars in their sights

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

AT THE MORNING SKATE

DALLAS, Texas – Coming off an 8-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at MTS Center, the Winnipeg Jets have hit the road once again, landing – appropriately enough – at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Mathieu Perreault played the hero the other night, registering a career-high four-goal game to lead the way, while Dustin Byfuglien chipped in with a pair en route to the lopsided victory.

While extremely pleased with the result, Head Coach Paul Maurice was quick to label that game as a “one-off,” and is looking for an even sharper performance tonight against the Stars, who trail the Jets by seven points in the ultra-competitive Central Division.

The Jets, who’ve strung together a 12-5-5 record on the road this season, continue to sit atop the Western Conference wild card standings with 52 points.

“We’re expecting their best today because it is on their calendar,” Maurice said. “There’s an expectation of how they’re going to play based on the desperation they’re feeling.

“Where are our challenges and where are they coming from? The biggest one right now is our schedule – getting the right cadence off the bench and getting the right shift length. Then we also have to deal with the fact that we’re coming off an 8-2 game. It’s not even the (score), but it wasn’t an overly physical game. This one will be.”

Ondrej Pavelec will make his 28th start of the season, looking to improve on his 10-10-6 record, 2.52 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.

“(Pavelec) played really well in Anaheim,” Maurice said, adding that Michael Hutchinson will likely get the nod tomorrow night in Chicago.

“He feels good about his game and I think the rotation sets up right for him.”

There will be no other lineup changes.

Since scoring his first goal with the Jets back on Nov. 18, Perreault has scored more goals than any other player in the National Hockey League, recording 15 in a 24-game span. Set last year, his career-high is 18, tallied in 63 games with the Anaheim Ducks.

He’s now only three off that mark with 38 games left to play this season.

Tuesday’s offensive outburst was a pleasant surprise for many, but the Jets aren’t counting on a repeat, citing the Stars’ affinity for the run-and-gun.

“I had zero (points) last game, so I’m ready to go,” laughed winger Blake Wheeler, who will suit up alongside Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. “We were fortunate last game to get a couple bounces. Tonight, we can’t play that game because those guys are good at it.

“We’re feeling good with the puck and we’re getting rewarded for it, but these guys can score, so we can’t get into a shooting match with them. We need to be physical and not allow them to skate freely. If you let them play with time and space, they’ll make you pay.”

Wheeler, who leads the team in assists with 21 for a total of 33 points in 44 games this season, is approaching a personal milestone. When the puck drop tomorrow against the Chicago Blackhawks, the 28-year-old will have played 500 NHL games.

“I put (Wheeler) in that Mark Stuart group of being really competitive every day,” Maurice said. “He’s been our most consistent driver up front. There have been games where maybe the puck didn’t go his way, but there haven’t been any games where I thought he didn’t give everything he had.”

TROUBA RETURNS TO PRACTICE

Jacob Trouba made the trip and was back on the ice today participating in a team practice for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury in mid-December.

Trouba skated as an extra on the forward lines, but is inching closer to a return.

“We were hopeful at the onset of the injury that around the all-star break that he might be back, and I think we’re probably still around that,” Maurice said. “I’m not sure that he’ll return before, but it probably won’t be too soon after. He’s not far off. It’s not about conditioning right now. It’s about time and healing.”

Trouba will miss his 14th straight game tonight.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s one of those things you’ve got to be patient with,” he said. “It helps that the team is playing well. It’s tough when you’re watching and you can’t do anything about it.

“I’m excited to get back out there and hopefully I can get back out there soon.”

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com
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