PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania -- A gruelling stretch of 12 games in 11 different cities comes to an end for the Winnipeg Jets at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Upon arriving in Pittsburgh on Friday, the Jets met their new teammate, Marko Dano, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in yesterday’s trade for Andrew Ladd.
“I was at dinner with my teammates in Cleveland and I got a call from (Blackhawks General Manager) Stan (Bowman) saying I was traded to Winnipeg,” said Dano following his first skate with the team. “It’s a new opportunity… I’m looking forward and I’m excited to be part of the Winnipeg Jets.”
Dano is expected to be in the line-up and add to the 48 games of NHL experience he has, split between the Columbus Blue Jackets (the team that drafted 27th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft) and the Blackhawks.
“I think I’m a two way player with good hockey sense. I have a thick body so I can protect the puck well in the corners. I’m not scared to go to the hard areas in front of the net,” said Dano, who has nine goals and 23 points in his NHL career. “I was with Scott Hartnell and other good guys, like (Nick) Foligno and Ryan Johansen. In Chicago, they’re amazing players. Practicing with them was an amazing experience. I think I became a better player beside them. Now I hope I can benefit from that.”
The 21-year-old skated alongside Adam Lowry and Joel Armia in his first practice.
“Adam is really smart positionally and there’s a simple game there. I don’t want to move four or five pieces around to put a new guy in the line-up,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “I liked the way (Mathieu) Perreault’s line did a lot of things last night, so we’ll keep them together.”
Maurice liked a lot of what he saw in Thursday’s 6-3 win over Dallas, the first full two points the Jets have picked up against the Stars this season.
“I thought our pace was really good. I didn’t think we were tentative at all,” said Maurice, adding he saw poise from his team after Dallas tied the game early in the third period. “Chances against after it was 3-3 didn’t increase. We didn’t panic or open up our game. After Armia scored that goal, nobody remembers anything anyway.”
The goal Maurice refers to was Armia’s fourth of the season. After picking up a pass from Lowry, Armia made two quick moves to get around Dallas defenceman Johnny Oduya before beating Kari Lehtonen to put the Jets up 5-3.
Michael Hutchinson made 27 saves in the win, which pushed Winnipeg’s record to 26-30-4. He’ll get the start in goal against a Penguins team holding down the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
“They are playing a faster game. Mike Sullivan does a really good job of holding a structure to a team,” Maurice said. “I think you’re going to see quite a different test (Saturday) than we saw against Dallas.”
The Jets won the only other meeting between the two clubs back on Dec. 27, a 1-0 thriller at MTS Centre. Maurice hopes to see his younger players seize the opportunity in front of them, especially with two big spots to fill on forward with Ladd now in Chicago, and Bryan Little out for the rest of the regular season.
“I think you saw Mark Scheifele step up his game. You saw Lowry, their minutes are up considerably. Andrew leaves our team so the left-wingers are going to see a little bit of a different role change,” said Maurice. “Players are aware of that. They’ll be excited about the opportunity to get more, and we like to see a jump from those guys.”
So while the Jets will get some much needed rest tonight after skating and flying in the same day, there is one more bit of business to figure out before game day prep takes over: Dano’s nickname.
“They were trying to find something for me,” laughed Dano. “I’m not sure if they’ve figured it out yet, but I’m sure they’ll find one.”
Puck drop is set for 2 pm CT.