WINNIPEG - The final three games of the Winnipeg Jets' 2019 schedule provided a challenge in the form of three divisional games. The opening of the 2020 portion of this season's schedule won't be any less of a grind.
The Jets (22-15-3) host the surging Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Bell MTS Place, a squad that is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and has points in each of their last eight, going 7-0-1 in that span.
But the Jets are a confident group, especially after a 7-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche on New Year's Eve.
"That was a huge win for us. Obviously a huge two points for our division as well," said Patrik Laine. "Hopefully we can continue to play the same way tonight. We need to. They have a really good team and they've played some good hockey lately."
Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice
The Jets have put together a 15-8-2 record against the Western Conference this season. The Eastern Conference is a little different, however. Winnipeg is 7-7-1 against the East and in the dressing room, the players know the style of play between the two conferences is a little different.
"They're definitely a little bit different. But at the end of the day, it's still an NHL game," said Mark Scheifele, who is coming off a four-point performance against Colorado. "We know they have a lot of skill up front that we have to be aware of and try to take their time and space away. They have a few D that will make you pay if you let them beat you up the ice. It's going to be another tough test tonight and we have to be on our 'A' game to stay with these guys."
Setbacks against the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens have provided valuable lessons, though. Winnipeg gave up six goals in both of those outings and Laine noticed a theme in both of those.
"We just need to be quicker. That's it. Every time we got the puck we were standing still and looking for the play. That's not going to happen against these guys," said Laine. "They have such good sticks and good back pressure. We have to take a couple steps before we make the play. That's going to be the key tonight."
Video: PREGAME | Mark Scheifele
Winnipeg's line-up will look slightly different than the one that produced the win over the Avalanche. Defenceman Nathan Beaulieu suffered a lower-body injury in that victory and will be out at least a month.
That means Carl Dahlstrom will draw in for the first time since December 3 when he played 14:40 against the Dallas Stars.
"He's been itching to get back in," said Paul Maurice. "We want him to get to pucks and move them real clean. That's his skill set. He can cover some ice and he can move the puck a little bit. His gap closure and the simplicity of his game. He's been banging on the door. He wants in. Tonight is a big night for him."
The forward lines are expected to remain the same for the Jets, who had five of their 12 forwards record multi-point games on New Year's Eve:
Like the Jets, the Maple Leafs (22-14-5) come into tonight's match-up fresh off a win over a Central Division opponent.
Toronto beat Minnesota 4-1 two days ago on goals from Alexander Kerfoot, William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares.
Those four goals put the Maple Leafs on top of the league list for goals scored this season with 145.
Video: PREGAME | Patrik Laine
But despite the difference in style between West and East, Maurice feels his team has gained a lot from the last three games that they can apply to tonight's tilt.
"You'll pull clips from Colorado and St. Louis and insert them into the Toronto pre-scout," said Maurice. "We're saying 'I know they're going to look differently because they do this, but this is how we want to look.' Not even necessarily where you're standing. It's 'this is the battle we value, this is what we want to have happen with this puck.'
"Even though there might be a higher risk play there because you're not going to get hit, keep it simple and keep it clean."
Puck drop is set for 7 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets begin 2020 by hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs at Bell MTS Place tonight…The Jets beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-4 on New Year's Eve to pick up their first win since the Christmas break...After tonight's game, the Jets head out on a four-game road trip, which begins Saturday afternoon against the Minnesota Wild.
Dec. 31 at COL - 7-4 W
Jets Scorers: Wheeler (12, 13), Scheifele (18), Connor (18, 19, 20), Ehlers (16)
Avalanche Scorers: Mackinnon (23, 24), Landeskog (10), Kadri (13)
Jets Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck (39 sv, 4 ga)
Avalanche Goaltender: Philipp Grubauer (19 sv, 5 ga)
Jets PP: 1-for-1
Jets PK: 2-for-4
Recap: Kyle Connor tallied a hat trick, while Mark Scheifele had a goal and three assists to lead the Jets to a 7-4 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night...Blake Wheeler also scored twice for the Jets, while Nikolaj Ehlers sealed the win with an empty net goal in the final seconds...Connor led the Jets with eight shots, which accounted for 30.8% of Winnipeg's shots in the game...Connor Hellebuyck made 39 saves for the win.
Three Stars: 1. Connor 2. MacKinnon 3. Hellebuyck
READ THE GAME NOTES
Tonight marks the halfway point of Winnipeg's 2019-20 campaign...At 22-15-3, the Jets have reached 22 wins by the midway point of the season for the third consecutive season...Since relocation in 2011 and excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Jets have posted a .500 or better points percentage in first half of each season and have a combined record of 167-125-35...Last season, Winnipeg set a franchise record with 26 wins in the first half of the season.
The Jets went 6-5-1 in December to finish with 14 points, which was tied for the 17th in the NHL...Winnipeg scored 48 goals in the month, which was fifth in the league, and its power play was sixth at 25.6%...The Jets penalty kill was tied for last in the NHL in December at 63.8%... It's the worst month for the Jets penalty kill since going 63.6% in January 2013, but that was during only seven games during the lockout-shortened season...Mark Scheifele finished third in NHL scoring in December with 20 points (9G, 11A) in 13 games...He had a point in 11 of the 13 games and posted six multi-point games...Kyle Connor was tied for eighth in league scoring last month with 17 points (10G, 7A)...Connor's 10 goals were tied for third.
Fresh Start at Home
The Jets enter 2020 having lost four consecutive home games (0-3-1)...Winnipeg is 10-8-2 at home this season, which includes a five-game winning streak from Nov. 23-Dec. 15...After playing seven of their first 10 games on the road to start the second half of the season, the Jets have a stretch of nine of 10 games at home from Jan. 31-Feb. 16.
The Jets are 3-1-0 against their Canadian counterparts in the NHL this season...The Jets play three of their next four games against Canadian opponents.
Kyle Connor scored Winnipeg's first hat trick of the season on Tuesday against Colorado...It was his second career hat trick (Mar. 23/19 vs. NSH 5-0 W)...Connor's third goal was his 20th of the season, which leads the Jets...After scoring 31 and 34 goals in his past two seasons, Connor is on pace to reach 40 goals for the first time in his career.
Captain Blake Wheeler played in his 900th career game on Tuesday...He's played 679 games with the Jets franchise after starting his career by playing 221 games with the Boston Bruins...Wheeler is just the fourth player from the 2005 NHL Draft to reach 900 games played, joining Alexander Ovechkin (1,125), Travis Zajac (961), and former teammate Andrew Ladd (947).
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 (3) - Dahlstrom, Sbisa, Shore