SAINT PAUL, Minnesota -- With the 5-4 overtime win over Nashville still fresh in their minds, the Winnipeg Jets (20-21-3) heard more good news this morning.
Dustin Byfuglien will play tonight against the Minnesota Wild, despite leaving last night’s game in the third period with an upper-body injury.
“We had a pretty good idea after the game that by the time we got off the plane he was feeling real strong,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “So it was good news but I think we were pretty confident he’d be able to play tonight.”
Byfuglien was a key piece in Thursday’s win over the Predators. He scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season in the second period, and played over 20 minutes of ice time until he was tangled up with Nashville’s Cody Bass, leading to the injury.
Coincidentally enough, Byfuglien also scored the game-winning goal the last time the Jets played Minnesota, a 3-1 victory on Nov 27. That game was also Connor Hellebuyck’s first NHL win. The netminder picked up his 10th career victory in last night’s overtime decision over the Predators, but Maurice wouldn’t name the 22-year-old the official starter for tonight.
Instead, Maurice focused on what the Jets have to do against a Wild team coming off a 3-2 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday.
“When they get their transition game from their back end off the rush going. They’ve got some really good skills and they make some really good seam plays, and plays at your blue line that cause confusion,” Maurice said. “That’s the big one for us. We can’t give up those odd man rushes and you need to stay out of the box. Their power play overall may not be exciting but it’s really good at home.”
The coach’s scouting report is bang on. The Minnesota power play is tied for fourth in the NHL at home, clicking at a rate of 25 percent. So while staying out of the box will be key, defenceman Tyler Myers believes preparation for tonight’s match up should begin far before the teams hit the ice.
“I just think we have to remember what our mindset was going into (Nashville) game, our preparation. I thought our whole group last night had the right mindset going into the game,” Myers said. “I think it showed in our play. It’s just a matter of remembering what we did, and how we prepared for the game, and bring the same.”
At 22-13-8, the Wild are holding down the top wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, following the win last night, the Jets sit four points out of the second wildcard spot.
“I guess it’s a rivalry in the sense that it’s a divisional opponent and you’re trying to catch them for a playoff spot,” Myers said. “We expect a tough game, coming in on a back-to-back for us. It’s a matter of playing a simple game and playing it hard, and not trying to break things open in unnecessary times.”
But by picking those times to open up correctly, good things can happen. Evidence comes in the form of Nikolaj Ehlers’ eighth goal of the season, which came on a breakaway following a beautiful one-touch pass from captain Andrew Ladd.
“It’s a really nice play. It’s a veteran play,” Ehlers said of Ladd’s pass. “I was kind of running a centre man’s route and I had no idea what I was doing. I went to the wrong side and kind of just skated up, then I saw (Chiarot) fired the puck up and just started skating. It was a little bit lucky too, but it’s always nice to get a goal like that.”
Ladd would go on to record three assists in last night’s game. For Ehlers, that was his second goal in as many games.
“When he’s skating as well as he is the last two games, all those other things open up,” Maurice said of Ehlers. “A guy like that just needs about six inches to a foot of ice to make a play. His legs open that ice up for him. Buff’s goal, his first goal, he created that play off the rush, diving play to keep the puck. That was the theme of our team last night.”
Maurice said he’d like to use the line of Ladd, Ehlers, and Mathieu Perreault again tonight, but it depends on a number of factors.
“Sometimes it’s match up on the road,” Maurice said. “Some of it will be health, some of it will be just back-to-back on the road you’re going to get a different kind of match up. But I liked them.”
There was a lot to like about last night, and now Maurice says the challenge is doing it all over again tonight. But he has confidence.
“We played at the right intensity level, that right compete level. Beyond that, that emotional commitment we’re talking about, it was good,” said Maurice. “They should be dragging this morning, and then get fired back up for tonight.”
Puck drop is 7 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com