WINNIPEG - It's been 187 days since the Winnipeg Jets last played a regular season game, but that stretch comes to an end tonight, when the team opens the 2016-2017 campaign at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine are set to make their NHL debut, with veteran Mathieu Perreault in the middle. Both players admit there may be some nerves tonight, but they can't wait to get started.
"If we could win, that would be great," said Laine following the morning skate. "Just be brave on the ice and not afraid of anything. Just give everything you have and that's enough for me and the team."
Head coach Paul Maurice saw seven players make their NHL debut with the Winnipeg Jets last season. He wants Laine and Connor to soak in the full experience tonight, and he hopes their parents do the same.
"What would you want if you came to the game and your kid was playing in his first NHL game? You'd want him to work his butt off so he looked like a good teammate, and that he had friends, the guys rallied around him and enjoyed his presence," said Maurice.
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
"Then you want your kid to look like he's having fun doing what he's doing. That's what I want for them tonight."
Carolina finished the preseason with a 4-2-1 record, and have a number of changes up front compared to last season's roster. The new names include Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho (a teammate of Laine's at the World Junior Championship and World Cup of Hockey), Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, and Lee Stempniak.
Despite those changes, Jets captain Blake Wheeler expects a similar playing style from coach Bill Peters and the Hurricanes.
"They've got some youth. I think they played really strong down the stretch last year. I remember playing them toward the back half of the season," said Wheeler. "They've got some skill up front, they do a good job of protecting the house in their defensive zone. It's going to be a tough night."
Video: PREGAME | Blake Wheeler
One of the men who will try and slow down Carolina's offense is Josh Morrissey. After making his NHL debut last season, the 21-year-old finds himself paired with Dustin Byfuglien on the blue line tonight.
Maurice likes the pairing, and praised Morrissey's hockey IQ as one reason it works so well.
"It seems that Josh has such an awareness… that he can see what's going on around him. He'll play with a dynamic, powerful man, that likes playing with him, talks to him, works together," said Maurice. "But his camp has allowed this to happen for us."
Video: PREGAME | Patrik Laine talks about his NHL debut
Connor Hellebuyck gets the start in goal for the Jets on a night that will see glow wands, individual player introductions, and a tribute to Len Kropioski as part of the home opener.
But amongst all the pre-game festivities, NHL debuts, and the electric crowd, there's only one thing on the coach's mind.
"Most importantly, we're just hoping the Jets win."
Puck drops at 7 pm CT.
JETS GAME NOTES
Winnipeg Jets (0-0-0) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (0-0-0)
7:00 p.m. - MTS Centre
The Winnipeg Jets begin their 2016-17 NHL regular season schedule tonight when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at MTS Centre...The Jets enter tonight's game after going 4-3 in the preseason...Dating back to last regular season, the Jets are on a four-game winning streak after winning their final four games of the 2015-16 season...Carolina begins the season on a six-game road trip which takes them through all four western Canadian cities in the NHL...Winnipeg heads to Minnesota on Saturday to play the Wild at Xcel Energy Center in their first road game of the season.
Opening at Home:
For the first time since the 2012-13 season, the Jets will begin their regular season schedule at home tonight...Winnipeg is 0-2 when starting the regular season at home since the franchise came to Winnipeg from Atlanta - losing 5-1 on Oct. 9/11 against the Montreal Canadiens and 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 19/13...The franchise had a 4-4-1 record when beginning the season at home in Atlanta.
The Jets have won two of five home openers at MTS Centre, including two of the last three (Oct. 4/13 vs LAK - 5-3 W and Oct. 16/15 vs. CGY 3-1 W)...Winnipeg is averaging 2 GF in the five home openers and 3 GA...In Atlanta, the franchise went 5-4-2 in home openers for an all-time franchise mark of 8-6-2 in home openers.
The Jets set their opening day roster this week, which includes rookies Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Brandon Tanev...Thirteen of the 23 players on the roster were drafted or signed out of college as a free agent by the Jets franchise.
Forwards Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele carry lengthy scoring streaks into the 2016-17 season...Wheeler posted 16 points (8g, 8a) in the final 11 games last season, while Scheifele rode a 10-game streak into the summer, during which he put up 15 points (6g, 9a)...Both are career-high streaks...Wheeler also started last season on an eight-game point streak (4g, 7a).
Jets vs. Hurricanes Records
At Home: 11-24-7
At MTS Centre: 4-4-0