WINNIPEG - Three days without being on the ice used to mean an ugly game the first night back.
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice even recalls when one day off seemed to cause a problem on the next game day.
"Fifteen years ago you were on the ice almost every single day. When you took a day off it was a major change in their life. The next day they couldn't get near handling a puck even if it was practice," said Maurice with a grin.
"Now players are more used to coming in after a day. It doesn't seem it's quite as egregious. It used to be that the two tough jobs were the guys standing in net because nobody knew what was going to happen.
"I think this will be a good hockey game here in terms of first game after the break."
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
The Jets (21-14-2) return from the holiday break tonight with the first match-up of the season with the St. Louis Blues (24-8-6), who lead the Central Division by five points over the second place Colorado Avalanche.
The players in the Jets dressing room feel a divisional match-up is exactly the type of game they want to play coming out of a break.
"You sort of know the style the game is going to be. There aren't any surprises in terms of trying to feel the other team out and figure out what they're all about," said Josh Morrissey. "Having that familiarity is a good thing. Everyone in the room understands the importance of the points. Having those games against the Central Division teams brings the best out in us and brings the level of battle and compete up to the level that makes us a successful team."
Connor Hellebuyck has a career 6-3-0 record against the Blues in the regular season with a sparkling 1.66 goals against average. He'll get the start in goal for Winnipeg, who won't make any changes to the line-up that fell 6-2 to Montreal on December 23:
After the loss to Montreal, the Jets didn't plan to spend much time looking over the video or carrying the tough home loss with them into the break.
The best way to bounce back is to play fast, simple, and direct.
"So far this year we've had some of our best games in the biggest games. We've had some of our best games in that Central Division style of hockey that we're so accustomed to," Morrissey said. "As a group, we're excited about the chance to get into a stretch where we're playing Central teams and see where we match-up with teams in our division. At the same time, trying to get the best out of our game."
Video: PREGAME | Josh Morrissey
The Jets have a 6-3-1 record against divisional opponents this season. But that will be put to the test tonight against a Blues team that has not only won five straight games, but also has an 8-1-1 record against the Central.
"They're the defending champs. They have a loaded roster and they're a heck of a team," said Neal Pionk. "They're rolling right now too. I know they've had three days off, but they're a good team no matter what. We're going to have to bring it tonight."
Tonight's game against the Blues is the front half of a home-and-home set that concludes in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.
The road doesn't get any easier before the five-day player break in January. The Jets will play 14 games in 27 days before another break in the schedule occurs.
"We're going to get into heavy competition here. We'll start hopefully bringing some guys back into the line-up toward the end of it, maybe toward the All-Star Break. It's almost like the start - grind and survive here," said Maurice.
"It's almost a playoff game each night. You have to go as hard and be as right as you can every single night. Then you wouldn't be getting too excited about that win because you have another big team coming in. If it's a loss, you have to get right back on the horse."
Video: PREGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers
Puck drop is set for 7 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets return to the ice tonight after the three-day Christmas break to host the St. Louis Blues at Bell MTS Place in the first game of a home-and-home set...The Jets lost 6-2 to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night in the last game before the break...Winnipeg visits St. Louis on Sunday afternoon in the back half of the home-and-home series, which begins a stretch of six of seven road games for the Jets.
Dec. 23 vs. MTL - 6-2 L
Jets Scorers: Connor (15), Laine (14)
Canadiens Scorers: Tatar (14, 15), Danault (9, 10), Domi (9), Lehkonen (7)
Jets Goaltender: Laurent Brossoit (42 sv, 6 ga)
Canadiens Goaltenders: Carey Price (27 sv, 2 ga)
Jets PP: 1-for-3
Jets PK: 1-for-2
Recap: Kyle Connor opened the scoring midway through the first period, but the Jets fell 6-2 to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night...Patrik Laine tallied Winnipeg's other goal...Anthony Bitetto paced the Jets with six hits, while Josh Morrissey had four blocked shots...Goaltender Laurent Brossoit made 42 saves in the loss.
Three Stars: 1. Danault 2. Tatar 3. Suzuki
READ THE GAME NOTES
The Jets end a stretch of playing five of six games at Bell MTS Place tomorrow...Winnipeg is 10-8-1 on home ice this season, including 9-5-1 in their past 15 home contests...The Jets have lost three consecutive home games after winning five straight at home...Mark Scheifele leads the Jets in scoring at home with 19 points (10G, 97A) in 19 games, including 11 points (6G, 5A) in seven home games during December.
The Jets are 6-3-1 against divisional opponents this season...The Jets are 14-7-1 against the Western Conference this season...The Jets are in the midst of playing five of six games against Western Conference teams...Kyle Connor leads the Jets in scoring against the Western Conference with 23 points (9G, 14A) in 22 games, while Mark Scheifele has a team-leading 11 goals.
Monday's loss by four goals was Winnipeg's fourth consecutive loss by three goals or more...The Jets are 9-12 in games decided by two goals or more this season, but 12-2-2 in games decided by one goal...Winnipeg's 12 wins in one-goal games is tied for the NHL lead...The Jets past seven games have been decided by three goals or more (3-4-0).
Turning the Calendar
The Jets have won 40 games in a calendar year for the third consecutive year and fourth time in the past five years...The Jets need three points in their last three games in 2019 to post their third best record in a calendar year since relocation...Three wins in their last three games of 2019 would match the 46 wins the Jets had in 2017, which is the second most in franchise history.
2019 on Point
Mark Scheifele leads the Jets in scoring during the 2019 calendar year with 74 points (33G, 41A) in 80 games...He also has a team-leading 11 power play goals...Kyle Connor leads the Jets in goals in 2019 with 36 in 80 games...Blake Wheeler leads the Jets with 21 power play assists in 2019.
Patrik Laine scored his eighth second period goal of the season on Monday, which is tied for sixth in the NHL and two behind Alexander Ovechkin's NHL-leading 10 second period goals...Laine is tied for ninth in the NHL with 16 (8G, 8A) second period points this season...Three of Laine's second period goals have been assisted by Mark Scheifele, who is third in the NHL this season with 14 second period assists...The second period has been the most productive of Laine's NHL career with 49 of his 124 career goals coming in the middle frame.
Mark Scheifele had the primary assist on both of Winnipeg's goals on Monday to join Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor for the team lead in primary assists with 13...All four players have more primary assists than secondary assists...Laine is four primary assists away from matching the career high 17 primary assists he had last season...Wheeler holds the franchise record for primary assists with 283.
How the Jets Were Built
Drafted (13) - Appleton, Connor, Copp, Ehlers, Harkins, Hellebuyck, Laine, Little, Lowry, Morrissey, Poolman, Scheifele, Roslovic
Trade (3) - Beaulieu, Pionk, Wheeler
Free Agency (8) - Bitetto, Bourque, Brossoit, Kulikov, Letestu, Luoto, Perreault, Shaw
Waivers (4) - Comrie, Dahlstrom, Sbisa, Shore