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Central Division rivals clash in St. Louis

by Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007) / Winnipeg Jets


AT THE MORNING SKATE

ST. LOUIS, Missouri -- Winnipeg Jets Coach Paul Maurice was quick to summarize how he felt tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues would look.

“It’s going to be a battle for every inch on the ice.”

Hard to argue, when the last meeting between the two clubs was tied 1-1 after 65 minutes, and ended 2-1 in the Blues’ favour at MTS Centre. There were 56 hits, 42 blocked shots, and 60 shots on goal between the two teams that night, and the Jets expect more of the same at Scottrade Center tonight.

“I don't think we've walked away from too many games against St. Louis feeling we didn't play well or play hard. You have to,” Maurice said. “They bring that out in your game. Just one more of everything, the extra shot on goal, the extra blocked shot.”

The Jets had 26 shots on goal and 14 blocked shots in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Nashville. Forward Drew Stafford had a goal and an assist in that game, which he said was similar to what his team expects tonight from St. Louis (41-19-5). It will be all about capitalizing on opportunities when they come.

“It was a pretty tight game until that one point when Ladd was able to make some room for himself and that's one mistake that we capitalized on,” said Stafford, who skated with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele this morning. “The same thing is going to happen against St. Louis, that's how the last game went. It was a very close checking game. One mistake we're going to wait and see if we can pounce on that.”

Those opportunities may come on special teams. Despite the physical nature of the previous meeting between the two teams, they only accumulated 16 penalty minutes. Discipline will be important for the Jets, who face the third best power play in the NHL from St. Louis.

“Stay out of the box. Don’t even give them a chance.” Stafford said with a smile. “Penalties do happen, when they do, we have to make sure we're taking advantage of our positioning, make sure we're boxing out, and creating some chaos.”

The Jets killed off both St. Louis power plays in their last meeting with the Central Division’s second-ranked team. One reason was Jim Slater who has won over 50 per cent of his face offs in six of his last seven games. Slater takes pride in his ability to get the edge in the face off dot, especially in penalty kill situations.

“That's where a lot of my face offs come, in the defensive zone, on my strong side. Those are the ones I need to win to start off the penalty kill,” he said.

“We had some confidence in the penalty kill last game against them. They have really skilled players. We want to do what we do the last few weeks here. Just keep pressure on them and try to force them to make plays at the blue line they don't want to make, then we jump on them from there.”

Winnipeg currently sits in the second, and final, wildcard spot in the Western Conference with 78 points. That’s one point back of Minnesota, and three clear of the Los Angeles Kings. After tonight, the Jets will see the Blues twice more, in a schedule filled with teams in a playoff spot as of tonight.

“We know those teams are going to be in the playoffs. If we want to get there, those are the teams you have to beat,” Slater said. “It's going to be a tough game, it's not going to be up and down, it's a lot of little battles you have to win in every zone.”

Puck drop at Scottrade Center is 7 p.m. CT. Michael Hutchinson is the projected starter for Winnipeg, while Brian Elliott will counter for St. Louis.

INJURY UPDATE

Bryan Little took to the ice near the end of morning skate today in a non-contact jersey. Coach Paul Maurice gave an update on the injured forward:

“He's where we thought he would be. He's not ahead of it at all,” Maurice cautioned. “His legs are good, it's upper body, so he can get out there and have a skate.”

Tonight’s game against St. Louis will be the second with out Little and Dustin Byfuglien in the line-up.

“We understand the quality of those two players, but I didn't get the feeling around the room that it was as big of a story as it was outside the room,” Maurice said. “I didn't get the sense during the game that guys were playing over their heads because this was a new adrenaline push off the injury. We have a few guys that got to play a little bit more and played well in those roles, we need them to do it again.”

-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com

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