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GAMEDAY: Jets vs Lightning

7:00 pm CT - TV: TSN 3; Radio: TSN 1290

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - Nikolaj Ehlers has won the fastest skater event at the Winnipeg Jets Skills Competition in three consecutive seasons, so tonight's match-up against a quick Tampa Bay Lightning squad suits him just fine.

"There's a lot of skill and a lot of speed on both sides. There are a lot of goals being scored usually in our games, which is fun for the fans," said Ehlers. "We want to go out there and try to shut them down a little bit and play the way we need to play to get the two points. We're excited about it."

Ehlers has seven goals and 10 points in nine career games against the Lightning. One of those goals came in the only other match-up of the season against Tampa Bay, a 4-3 Jets win at Amalie Arena in November.

Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice

While the Lightning (28-15-4) dropped a 3-2 decision to the Minnesota Wild last night, they have been on a tear since late December, winning 11 of their last 13 games to propel them to second spot in the Atlantic Division.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice sees a lot of similarities between the Lightning and his club, which is coming off a 4-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

"Either team's forwards can win the hockey game. You leave a Tampa Bay game and you always feel like they could have scored eight more," said Maurice.

"We don't shoot the puck the same way they do in terms of frequency. I don't feel leaving the bench a lot saying we left eight or nine goals there. But there are two really high-end offensive lines. What the back ends can do will be the difference. What our forwards can do for our defence to keep some of that danger from happening too frequently is the key piece to it."

Maurice will make a slight adjustment to the line-up tonight, with Gabriel Bourque slotting in for Jansen Harkins alongside Nick Shore and Mason Appleton.

"My history would say I'd leave a guy in and if you stay healthy on your fourth line, a guy might sit three or four weeks. But I don't want to do that," Maurice said. "I don't think either one of those guys deserve that. They're playing well and coming out. But they're understanding that I'm probably not leaving a guy out for a long period of time. I want those guys to play."

Video: PREGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers

The Jets (25-18-4) line-up is expected to look like this tonight, based on Thursday's practice:

Connor-Scheifele-Laine

Copp-Wheeler-Ehlers

Perreault-Lowry-Roslovic

Bourque-Shore-Appleton

Morrissey-Kulikov

Niku-Pionk

Bitetto-Sbisa

Connor Hellebuyck didn't take today's pre-game skate, which has been consistent with his game day routine. Andrei Vasilevksiy is expected to start for the Lightning after Curtis McElhinney made 20 saves on 23 shots in Minnesota last night. 

Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy are names found near the top of a number of goaltending categories this season, with Hellebuyck's 41 saves against Vancouver giving him his league-leading fourth shutout of the season.

"Connor was our best player. Defensively I thought the first two periods (against Vancouver) were pretty good. We communicated and sorted things out. In the third period we leaned a little too much on Helly," said Neal Pionk, who said the Lightning certainly provide a challenge for the Jets defencemen.

"They have a lot of poise with the puck. We're going to have to be conscious of that, take the body, and make sure we finish our checks."

Video: PREGAME | Neal Pionk

Tampa Bay is one of the best possession teams in the NHL. Their 52.9 shot attempt percentage at even strength is the fifth best in the league and over the course of their 11-2-0 run, the 49 goals they've scored are tied for the league's most.

But the Jets can put the puck in the net as well. The best way to defend against the type of offence Tampa Bay can bring is to prevent them from having the puck in the first place.

That's why the focus of Thursday's practice was primarily on building time in the offensive zone.

"If you're in the O-zone, you're not playing D. You're not getting scored on. You want to try and limit any dangles and turnovers on the blue line and get the puck deep and work from there," Ehlers said.

"They're going to be coming back hard and trying to go back the other way quickly. We have to wear them down, put pucks deep, go after them, and create zone time off that. We know how to do that. We have to continue it."

Puck drop is set for 7 pm CT.

-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com

Game Notes

The Winnipeg Jets finish a three-game homestand tonight when they entertain the Tampa Bay Lightning at Bell MTS Place...The Jets have split the first two games of the homestand after shutting out the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 on Tuesday night...The Jets wrap up their pre-all-star break schedule with a three-game, four-day road trip, which begins Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Last Game

Jan. 14 vs. VAN - 4-0 W

Jets Scorers: Connor (23, 24), Roslovic (8), Wheeler (15)

Canucks Scorers: None

Jets Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck (41 sv, 0 ga)

Canucks Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom (21 sv, 3 ga)

Jets PP: 1-for-3

Jets PK: 4-for-4

Recap: Kyle Connor scored twice and had an assist to lead the Jets past Vancouver 4-0 on Tuesday...Jack Roslovic and Blake Wheeler also scored for Winnipeg, who got 41 saves from goaltender Connor Hellebuyck in the shutout...Luca Sbisa led the Jets with six blocked shots.

Three Stars: 1. Hellebuyck 2. Connor 3. Copp

READ THE GAME NOTES

In the Win Column

Tuesday's win was Winnipeg's first win on home ice in their past seven home games...The Jets are 11-10-2 at home this season, which ranks tied for 26th in the NHL...Mark Scheifele leads the Jets in scoring at home with 23 points (11G, 12A) in 23 games, while Kyle Connor has a team-best 12 goals...Connor has scored 54 of his 91 career goals (59.3%) at Bell MTS Place.

Friday Night Lights

The Jets are 4-0-1 on Fridays this season...Wednesday (2-0-0) is the only other day of the week in which the Jets haven't lost in regulation this season...Winnipeg has six games on Fridays before the all-star break and five in nine weeks after the all-star break, which are all at home...Kyle Connor leads the Jets in scoring on Fridays with seven points (4G, 3A) in five games, while goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is 3-0-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.

Middling East

The Jets are 9-9-1 against the Eastern Conference this season, including 5-4-0 against the Atlantic Division...Winnipeg plays four of their next five games against Eastern Conference opponents...Mark Scheifele has enjoyed playing the East this season with a team leading 24 points (9G, 15A) in 19 games...Andrew Copp has two game-winning goals against the Eastern Conference.

Well Rested

The Jets are 9-3-2 this season when getting two or more days rest, compared to 16-15-2 when getting one day or less of rest...The two days off between games this week marked Winnipeg's first consecutive days without a game since the Christmas break.

Mr. Shutout

Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck became the franchise's all-time shutout leader on Tuesday when he turned aside all 41 shots he faced...Hellebuyck's 18 shutouts in a Jets uniform is one more than Ondrej Pavelec had with the franchise...Hellebuyck has multiple shutouts in all five of his seasons in the NHL...He has posted multiple shutouts against six NHL teams, including three against the St. Louis Blues...Hellebuyck is averaging 30 shots against in games he has a shutout during his career.

KC's 40-Plus Pace

Kyle Connor scored twice on Tuesday to extend his team leading goal total to 24 in 47 games...He's 10 goals shy of the career high 34 goals he scored last season and is on pace for 42 goals this season...Patrik Laine scored 44 goals during the 2017-18 season to be the only Jets player since relocation in 2011 to score at least 40 goals in a season.

Patty Passer

Patrik Laine registered two assists on Tuesday to match the career high 28 assists he posted during his rookie season in 2016-17...He's averaging a career high 0.96 assists per game this season...Laine has eight multi-assist games this season, compared to 11 during his first three seasons combined.

Sbisa Shot Blocks

Luca Sbisa's six blocked shots on Tuesday were one shy of his career high of seven in a game...Sbisa leads the Jets with 59 blocked shots this season...He's averaging 1.74 blocked shots per game, which is the most of his career.

How the Jets Were Built

Drafted (14) - Appleton, Connor, Copp, Ehlers, Harkins, Hellebuyck, Laine, Little, Lowry, Morrissey, Niku, Poolman, Scheifele, Roslovic

Trade (3) - Beaulieu, Pionk, Wheeler

Free Agency (6) - Bitetto, Bourque, Brossoit, Kulikov, Letestu, Perreault

Waivers (3) - Dahlstrom, Sbisa, Shore

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