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GAME DAY: Laine, Ovechkin square off as Rocket Richard race heats up

6:00pm CT - TV: TSN3; Radio: TSN 1290

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

Video: PREGAME | JetsTV Road Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The top two snipers in the National Hockey League face-off tonight at Capital One Arena, as Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets (41-18-9) take on Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals for the final time this regular season.

Laine and Ovechkin are tied for the league lead in goals with 40, something the 19-year-old Finn is excited about.

"He's been my biggest idol when I was growing up," said Laine. "Washington, they've always been my favourite team when I was growing up. It's always been my dream to play against them, and just overall to be here at the rink. Now we're playing here, so it's pretty cool."

Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice

While his goal scoring may get most of the headlines - as they did on Monday when Laine was named the NHL's First Star of the Week - Jets head coach Paul Maurice says the growth in Laine's game has been fun to watch.

"As much as you're left smiling when the puck goes in, because it happens so often now and it's fun to watch, there have been an awful lot of games where he could have had two or three more," said Maurice.

"I think there is lots of room - as he physically matures - for his game to change. Become a power forward, and a big strong man that can score off the rush, take pucks to the net. I think there are lots of places that Patty is going to improve over the years."

The 2017-18 season marks the ninth time that Ovechkin has hit the 40-goal mark in his career, and also got him within two of 600 for his NHL career. Maurice has coached against Ovechkin since 2005, and has seen a change in how the 32-year-old Russian plays.

"He came in as a hitter almost - a shooter and a hitter. He was a very physical player, covered an awful lot of ice during the games," said Maurice. "He's matured into kind of picking his spots. He's still a hard guy to play against. Physically he's very strong. I think he uses the people around him better - and that's true of all young players. But his game has really changed, really grown, and really matured."

Video: PREGAME | Patrik Laine

Winnipeg will ice the same line-up tonight as Saturday, as they try to sweep the two-game season series against a Capitals team that wrapped up a three-game road trip through California with a 2-0 win over San Jose two nights ago.

The line combinations will start the same way they did two games ago, minus Toby Enstrom, who won't play tonight.

Connor-Little-Wheeler

Ehlers-Stastny-Laine

Perreault-Copp-Roslovic

Tanev-Hendricks-Armia

Chiarot-Byfuglien

Morrissey-Myers

Morrow-Poolman

Laine and the Jets had put together three consecutive wins on a season-long six-game trip before coming up on the short end of a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

The loss also snapped a streak of eight consecutive road games with a point for the Jets, who were 7-0-1 in that span.

"I think we created a lot of turnovers in the last game. We have to play better defence. They have a really good team. We have to be careful with their top lines, and not take too many penalties, because they have a good power play," said Laine.

"The work is not done yet. There's a lot of games to go. Hopefully we can play good hockey, including myself."

Video: PREGAME | Mathieu Perreault

The work that remains includes 14 more regular season games, including the eighth set of back-to-back games to close out the road trip.

"We're getting into the length of the trip now where we're going to have to run all four (lines)," said Maurice. "We're going to need everybody going."

Connor Hellebuyck gets the start in goal for the Jets, while Philipp Grubauer counters for Washington, with puck drop set for 6 pm CT.

ICE CHIPS

Steve Mason will be out of the Jets line-up for 2-3 weeks after having a scope of his knee done this morning. The injury occurred during Mason's first shutout of the season over the New York Rangers last week.

Dmitry Kulikov also went back to Winnipeg for further evaluation of an upper-body injury he sustained in the win over the New Jersey Devils.

But there is progress on the injury front, as Mark Scheifele (injured in the win over the Rangers as well) joined his team for today's morning skate in a non-contact jersey.

"He's feeling much better, which is a real positive," Maurice said. "We do not want a reoccurrence, so we'll be real patient with this one."

Adam Lowry ditched his non-contact jersey for a regular one today, indicating he's getting closer to a return, while Maurice says Trouba could be an option shortly after the team returns home from the road trip.

Whether that return comes against Chicago on Thursday or the following game remains to be seen.

Maurice also said Shawn Matthias is close to being available.

"One of the things he's battling is we haven't had a lot of practice time with the number of games that we're playing," said Maurice. "We'll wait on that before we can get him into a heavy one."

- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com

JETS GAME NOTES

Tonight's Game

The Winnipeg Jets play the fifth game of a season-high six-game road trip and the first of two games in as many nights tonight against the Washington Capitals...The Jets suffered their first loss of the road trip Saturday afternoon, losing 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers...The backend of the home-and-home goes tomorrow against the Nashville Predators.

Jets vs. Capitals Notes

- The Jets have a point in three of their last four games against Washington (2-1-1).
- The Jets are 8-9-3 against the Capitals since the franchise moved to Winnipeg...The Jets dominated the matchups early with a 5-1-1 record in the first seven meetings after the franchise relocated to Winnipeg when the two sides were in the former Southeast Division.
- Winnipeg is winless in their last five trips to the American capital, going 0-4-1...The Jets last win in Washington was Jan. 22/13 by a score of 4-2, which was led by a career-high three assists by Toby Enstrom...Current Jets Mathieu Perreault and Matt Hendricks, who scored that night, were playing for the Capitals then.

Back-to-Back

Tonight begins the eighth back-to-back set for the Jets this season...Winnipeg plays nine back-to-backs this season, which is the least number of back-to-backs in the NHL...The Jets are 3-3-1 in the first game of back-to-backs and 3-3-1 in the second game...Last season the Jets had 13 back-to-back sets, going 6-6-1 in the first game and 6-5-2 in the second game for an overall record of 12-11-3.

Marching Forward

The Jets are 4-1-0 to start the month of March...The Jets also had a strong March last season, going 8-5-1 in 14 games...Since relocating to Winnipeg in 2011, the Jets are 43-41-10 in the month of March...Newcomer Paul Stastny leads the Jets with 117 points (36G, 81A) in 140 career games in March, while Mark Scheifele has 43 points (19G, 24A) in 49 games in March during his career.

Facing the East

The Jets are 15-7-5 against the Eastern Conference this season, including a 9-4-2 record versus the Metropolitan Division...Saturday's loss to the Flyers ended Winnipeg's six-game winning streak against the Eastern Conference...Tonight is the last of six consecutive games against the East for the Jets...Of the six road games Winnipeg has left, four are against an Eastern Conference opponent...Blake Wheeler leads the Jets with 33 points (8G, 25A) in 26 games against the Eastern Conference, which is sixth among Western Conference players.

Special Time on the Road

Saturday's loss was Winnipeg's first regulation loss on the road since a 4-1 defeat at Minnesota in Jan. 13...It ended the Jets' eight-game road point streak and franchise record five-game road winning streak...With 17 wins, Winnipeg is three wins away from tying the franchise record for most road wins in a season...However, Winnipeg's penalty kill streak stayed intact, as the Jets have now killed 20 consecutive shorthanded opportunities and are 40-for-43 (93.0%) on the penalty kill in their last 14 road games.

Laine's World

Coming off being named the NHL's Second Star of the Week, Patrik Laine continued his torrid pace last week with five goals in three games...Laine extended his point streak to 11 games (15G, 6A) with a goal on Saturday...He's tied with Marian Hossa (2006-07) and Blake Wheeler (2015-16) for the longest point streak in franchise history...Laine has 40 goals this season, which is tied with Washington's Alex Ovechkin for first in the NHL, and 76 goals in his first two seasons, which leads the NHL since the start of last season...Laine's 76 goals as a teenager is tied with Wayne Gretzky and Brian Bellows for third-most in NHL history...Laine became the fourth Finnish-born player to score 40 goals in a season, joining Teemu Selanne (seven times), Jari Kurri (seven times) and Tomas Sandstrom (twice)...And finally, Laine has scored nine of Winnipeg's last 14 goals.

Wingman Wheeler

Blake Wheeler notched his 58th assist of the season on Saturday to move into a share of the NHL lead and pass Marian Hossa (57 assists in 2006-07) for the second-most assists in a season in franchise history...Wheeler leads the NHL with 42 primary assists...Wheeler needs six primary assists to have the most primary assists in a season since the stat was tracked beginning with the 2009-2010 season...He is on pace for 70 assists this season, which would break Marc Savard's franchise record of 69 assists set during the 2005-06 season.

Jets vs. Capitals All-Time Records

Overall: 35-39-14
At Bell MTS Place: 5-5-1
At Verizon Center: 12-22-9

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