PITTSBURGH, PA - The first few games of the Winnipeg Jets season have tested the organization's depth on the blue line.
Tonight's road trip finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins will be another test.
Josh Morrissey will miss his second consecutive game, while Dmitry Kulikov also won't play while he tends to a personal matter.
As a result, Sami Niku and Nelson Nogier have been recalled from the Manitoba Moose. Niku will play tonight, joining a defense corps with Neal Pionk, Ville Heinola, Carl Dahlstrom, Tucker Poolman, and Anthony Bitetto.
Video: PREGAME | Mark Scheifele
"I just want to play my own game and I need to be hard in the D-zone," said Niku, who registered two assists in two games with the Manitoba Moose over the weekend.
"I felt pretty good. I think I'm ready to go here."
Morrissey was a full participant in practice on Monday, but head coach Paul Maurice said the 24-year-old defenceman - who was injured in warm-up prior to Sunday's game against the New York Islanders - didn't feel great about an hour after the 40-minute practice.
Maurice said the pairs on the blue line aren't set in stone quite yet.
"We're going to work through that. You're going to see different combinations," Maurice said, adding the defenceman have remained positive through all the changes forced by injury.
"The attitude has been good. They've worked hard, they've stayed positive, they're still trying to make plays. They're not showing a lot of tentative play out there which is really good and there has been some good play there. It's all about growth for that blue line."
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
The forward lines in practice yesterday looked like this:
The Penguins (1-1-0) are also dealing with injuries of their own. Both Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad won't be in the line-up.
Sidney Crosby will be, however. Should Jets centre Mark Scheifele draw that match-up, he'll be ready. He's used to going up against the opposition's best.
"He's great in the D-zone, he has a good stick. In the O-zone it's tough to take it off him," said Scheifele. "He makes simple plays all over the ice that can make you pay. Obviously playing against him is a challenge but it's fun to play against a guy of his caliber."
Scheifele earned praise from Maurice after Sunday's loss to the Islanders for leading by example. Maurice stated it was the centre's best game since the postseason.
Video: PREGAME | Sami Niku
The 26-year-old, who leads all Jets forwards in average ice time per game at just under 22 minutes, will need to do more of the same tonight.
"It's tough to lose guys or not have guys in the line-up. It's one of those things you have to battle through and have other guys step in and play their game. It's a big opportunity for a lot of guys," said Scheifele.
"We have a structure and everyone knows it. No matter if they get called up, guys are all going through the same thing. We just have to play our game."
Of course, it will be a team effort defensively tonight - as it is regardless of who is in the line-up - as the Jets try to improve their 1-2-0 record and earn a split on the season opening four-game road trip.
"The best players have to be accounted for when they're on the ice," Maurice said. "Your game has to get to a real simple spot because all those high-end players can read where you're going with the puck, so you have to make your decisions really quickly and early. A big part of that is the forwards being within striking distance so we can move as a group."
Connor Hellebuyck will get his second start of the season with puck drop set for 6 pm CT at PPG Paints Arena.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets finish their four-game season opening road trip tomorrow against the Pittsburgh Penguins...The Jets are 1-2-0 on the trip so far after losing 4-1 to the New York Islanders on Sunday night...After tomorrow's game, the Jets return to Bell MTS Place for their home opener on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.
Oct. 6 at NYI - 4-1 L
Jets Scorer: Laine (1)
Islanders Scorers: Bailey (1), Nelson (1), Lee (1), Beauvillier (1)
Jets Goaltender: Brossoit (29 sv, 4 ga)
Islanders Goaltender: Greiss (35 sv, 1 ga)
Jets PP: 0-for-2
Jets PK: 0-for-1
Recap: The Winnipeg Jets outshot the New York Islanders 15-9 in the first period, but gave up three goals in the second period and lost 4-1 on Sunday night...Patrik Laine scored his first goal of the season in the second period for Winnipeg's only tally...Kyle Connor and Ville Heinola led the Jets with five shots.
Three Stars: 1. Beauvillier 2. Bailey 3. Greiss
VIEW FULL GAME NOTES
The Jets are averaging a paltry 3.3 penalty minutes per game to start the season...Winnipeg was assessed two minor penalties in each of their first two games and just one minor penalty on Sunday against the Islanders...Last season the Jets averaged 9.3 penalty minutes per game, which was the fifth most in the NHL.
Three Goal Periods
The Jets have allowed three in goals in a period in each of their first three games...Last season the Jets allowed three goals or more in a period 11 times, which was second fewest in the NHL behind the New York Islanders' 10 occurrences...Winnipeg allowed 2.96 goals against per game last season (15th in the NHL), compared to 4.67 goals against per game to start this season.
Jets went 18-12-2 against Eastern Conference teams last season, including 11-5-0 against the Metropolitan Division and 7-7-2 against the Atlantic Division...Blake Wheeler (10G, 28A) led the Jets with 38 points in 32 games against the Eastern Conference last season, while Mark Schiefele had 36 points (18G, 18A) in 32 games.
Including the 2019 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic later this month, Winnipeg plays nine of their first 15 games of the season away from Bell MTS Place...The Jets start the season with five of their first six games on the road...The Jets went 8-7-1 in games that were a part of a four-game road trip last season...The Jets had four four-game trips and won two games on each trip.
First For Laine
Patrik Laine scored his first goal of the season on Sunday against the Islanders, leaving the Columbus Blue Jackets as the only team he hasn't scored against in his career...Since entering the NHL, Laine's 111 goals in 239 games ranks sixth in the NHL, while his 61 goals on the road is third.
Get In There, Kid
Eighteen-year-old defenceman Ville Heinola has gone from 18:24 to 21:10 to 23:01 of ice time in his first three career games...He's also averaging 1:42 of power play time per game, which is third most by a rookie defenceman in franchise history behind Toby Enstrom (5:44 in 2007-08) and Jacob Trouba (1:58 in 2013-14)...The franchise record for most ice time in a game is 33:39, which was logged by Enstrom Mar. 7/08 in a 3-2 win against the Minnesota Wild.
Jack Roslovic won six of eight face-offs on Sunday against the Islanders to increase his face-off winning percentage to 62.5% this season...He holds a career 44.4% face-off winning percentage...He's won five face-offs or more five times during his career and all five of those games were on the road.
How the Jets Were Built
Drafted (14) - Appleton, Connor, Copp, Ehlers, Gustafsson, Heinola, Hellebuyck, Laine, Little, Lowry, Morrissey, Poolman, Scheifele, Roslovic
Trade (3) - Beaulieu, Pionk, Wheeler
Free Agency (6) - Bitetto, Bourque, Brossoit, Kulikov, Letestu, Perreault
Waivers (1) - Dahlstrom