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Central Division rivals hook up in pre-season action

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – The 2015 pre-season schedule continues tonight as the Winnipeg Jets head south for the second of two meetings with the Central Division rival Minnesota Wild.

With a host of veterans having played last game, and with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd unavailable due to injury, Head Coach Paul Maurice will be deploying a younger lineup tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

The team will depart for Minnesota immediately after practice.

“We’re going real young again,” Maurice said following Saturday’s practice. “We’re running out of games here. There are people that worked all summer to want more — either to make the team or get more ice time. I’d like to get them into the game and give them a chance to do that, to show that they’ve improved.”

For many, it will be their last chance to show what they've got.

"The first four games we were looking at as many people as we could, and now we’re going to have to get dialled in on a handful of guys for the last three," Maurice said. "I’m not as focused on the team, it’s the individuals in the game — and that’s been true of the first three (games). I haven’t been worried about the systems or where we’re at with it. I’m looking at guys and seeing if they’ve made progress. Some players will actually get physically stronger with the harder workload and the harder practices, they get more physically fit and they drive harder. And for some guys, it gets to be too much.

"We’ll get a real good look at a faster opponent tonight. The (competition) will be a lot stronger in Minnesota, so how do they stack up against that?"

After tonight, the Jets will have only three exhibitions games left: Tuesday vs. Ottawa before finishing up with a home-and-home set with the Calgary Flames, Thursday and Saturday.

Michael Hutchinson will get the start in goal for the Jets and is expected to go the distance depending on workload and shot volume. Connor Hellebuyck will back up.

Defenceman Josh Morrissey will be appearing in his third pre-season contest tonight. The first-year pro says he feels better early on this season after focusing so intently on speed and conditioning over the past calendar year.

"I think I’ve been far more confident," he said. "Every time I get out there for a shift I feel better and better. It’s early on in the season, but I feel a lot better than I did last year.

"My skating feels really good, my quickness on the ice feels really good. Finishing the year in junior and then coming up to the pace of the pro pro-season, the speed is faster and guys are on you quicker and those holes to make plays close quicker."

Morrissey, +1 on the pre-season, will be paired with Brendan Kichton on the blue line tonight.

The Wild are expected to ice a more competitive roster after having only two team veterans – Erik Haula and Marco Scandella – appear in last night’s game in Saskatoon. With Darcy Kuemper going the distance in goal, it is presumed that either Niklas Backstrom or Devan Dubnyk will get the call between the pipes. Dubnyk, who had a 27-9-2 record, a 1.78 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage with five shutouts with the Wild last year, was awarded a six-year, $26-million contract over the off-season. The 29-year-old has appeared in one pre-season game so far, stopping 24 shots in a 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Jets (0-1-2) and Wild (2-1-0) are both coming off losses to the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week.

Puck drop goes at 5:00pm CT and you can watch the game live on TSN3.

— Ryan Dittrick,


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