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GAMEDAY: Jets vs Sharks

6:00 pm CT - TV: TSN 3; Radio: TSN 1290

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - The blue line will look a little bit different for the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night against the San Jose Sharks.

Defencemen Tucker Poolman and Luca Sbisa will return tonight after missing 12 and three games respectively.

"I'm trying to come in and make the right plays and help this team win hockey games," said Poolman, who last played on January 12 against Nashville.

"Usually at the start of a season, let's say, or when you've been out for a while you just try to stick to the basics and try to expand your game from there. Make sure you're in the right positions and little things like that, then the rest will come."

Video: PREGAME | Paul Maurice

To make room for Poolman and Sbisa, Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Anthony Bitetto and Sami Niku will come out of the line-up tonight.

It's never an easy decision. Bitetto has played in every game except one since November 27. As for Niku, Maurice has liked what the 23-year-old defenceman has brought to the ice over the last 13 consecutive games he's played.

"We had a long conversation. I really liked the block of games he's played, probably up until the last two or three," Maurice said of Niku. "He's also been dealing with an injury. It's a playing one, so like other players. It's a bit of a reset. It's not 'you're out of the line-up and you're going to the minors.'

"He's been a good player for us, he's played well, we value his game. You're off it a little bit here tonight, we have some healthy guys coming back in. It was a very positive meeting, as much as can be when you're taking a guy out of the line-up. He understood. He wasn't fighting me on his last three games, he knew he wasn't quite there."

With the shuffle on the blue line, the Jets defensive pairs will shake down like this:

Morrissey-Pionk

Kulikov-Poolman

Beaulieu-Sbisa

Up front, captain Blake Wheeler will play against the Sharks after missing Thursday's practice due to illness.

Wheeler has three points in the two meetings between the Jets and Sharks this season. He points to being ready from the drop of the puck as a main point of emphasis tonight.

"Get off to a good start in our building," he said. "We have the ability to be effective when we get out fast and get back to that game."

Video: PREGAME | Tucker Poolman

The Jets won't make any adjustments to their forward group as they try to rebound from a 4-1 loss to the Rangers, a game that Wheeler sees some room for improvement from his group.

"The details of our game at five-on-five can be cleaned up. We haven't generated a whole lot at five-on-five for a while now," said Wheeler. "Just little details, making sure that when we're in those scoring areas, we have to be on the tape. Little nuances you take for granted sometimes. Ultimately it's going to be the difference between whether you're scoring or not sometimes."

Speaking of no changes, Maurice also won't change his goaltender from the first two games against San Jose.

Connor Hellebuyck made a career-best 51 saves in the first match-up with the Sharks this season, then followed that with a 32-save performance later that month in a 5-1 Jets win.

Video: PREGAME | Blake Wheeler

But that 51-save effort still stands out to Maurice.

"That was the turning point of that month for us," Maurice said. "We were banging around .500 and over 50 (shots against), everything was at the net. There were three guys standing in his crease for 40 straight minutes. 

"We win that game and go win on back-to-back nights in Vegas the next night. That was when we started to understand how hard you have to battle, how hard we're going to have to battle with our back end looking the way it did at the time. He got us on that roll."

The Sharks (24-8-4) are also coming off a loss, a 6-2 decision at the hands of the Calgary Flames.

Overall, San Jose is 4-6-0 in their last 10 and sit 12 points back of a wildcard spot. However, Poolman knows tonight's tilt will be anything but easy, even if the Sharks are hampered by injuries to Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl.

They're still a group that has threats like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the blue line, along with former Jet Evander Kane up front.

"They've got some big bodies, they've got some speed, the like to work it down low, they like to get pucks at the net and tip plays, things like that," said Poolman. "Just boxing out, be in good defensive positioning, and when you can hop into plays, you try to hop into the rush too."

Video: PREGAME | Luca Sbisa

Maurice hopes his team can bounce back after the loss to the Rangers snapped the 4-0-1 run the Jets were on prior to that Tuesday night.

"In our stretch of hockey right now, handling the losses is equally as important as feeling good after a win," he said. "We'll try and get back on the horse tonight."

Puck drop is set for 6 pm CT.

-- Mitchell Clinton

Game Notes

The Winnipeg Jets play the fourth game of a six-game homestand tonight when the San Jose Sharks visit Bell MTS Place...The Jets are 2-1-0 on the homestand after a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night...The Jets finish the homestand with games against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday and Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

Last Game

Feb. 11 vs. NYR - 4-1 L

Jets Scorer: Ehlers (20)

Rangers Scorers: Kreider (21, 22), Strome (13), Zibanejad (23)

Jets Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck (28 sv, 4 ga)

Rangers Goaltenders: Igor Shesterkin (42 sv, 1 ga); Henrik Lundqvist (1 sv, 0 ga)

Jets PP: 0-for-4

Jets PK: 0-for-1

Recap: Nikolaj Ehlers scored in the third period, but the Jets lost 4-1 to the New York Rangers Tuesday night...Patrik Laine led the Jets with seven shots, while Neal Pionk had a team high five blocked shots.

Three Stars: 1. Kreider 2. Zibanejad 3. Shesterkin

READ THE GAME NOTES

At Home

Winnipeg is 14-13-3 at home this season and are in a stretch of nine of 10 games at Bell MTS Place...The Jets are in the midst of a six-game homestand, which is their longest homestand of the season at Bell MTS Place...The Jets are 3-1-1 in their past five home games...Kyle Connor leads the Jets in scoring at home with 29 points (15G, 14A) in 30 games...Patrik Laine leads the Jets with 15 goals at home.

Facing the Pacific

The Jets play two of their next three games against Pacific Division squads...Winnipeg is 9-4-0 against the Pacific Division this season for a .692 points percentage, which is their best points percentage against any division this season...The Jets have only played the Pacific Division once since Dec. 9 (Jan. 14 vs. VAN - 4-0 W)...Winnipeg is 7-1-0 in their past eight games against the Pacific Division...Three of the nine wins against the Pacific Division have been in overtime or a shootout...Kyle Connor leads the Jets in scoring against the Pacific Division this season with 17 points (8G, 9A) in 13 games.

Verge of 60

Kyle Connor (28G, 31A) and Mark Scheifele (23G, 36A) each sit with a team leading 59 points in 58 games...The Jets are poised to become the 11th team in the NHL to have a player reach 60 points this season...Only the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers have had two players reach 60 points this season...Scheifele could reach the 60 point mark for the fifth consecutive season, while Kyle Connor reached 60 points last season for the first time in his career.

20-Goal Quartet

Nikolaj Ehlers scored his 20th goal of the season on Tuesday to join Kyle Connor (28), Patrik Laine (24), and Mark Scheifele (23) as 20-goal scorers on the Jets this season...The Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning are the only two teams in the NHL with four 20-goal scorers this season...The franchise record for the most 20-goal scorers in a season is five, which has been accomplished five times, including in each of the past three seasons...With 17 goals, Blake Wheeler is the next closest Jets to making it four consecutive seasons.

Hitman

Defenceman Neal Pionk leads the Jets with 136 hits this season...He's two hits away from matching the 138 hits he had last season in 15 more games...Pionk has eight games this season with five hits or more...He's already set career highs in assists (31) and points (37), while matching a career high with six goals.

Second Star

Kyle Connor was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday after leading the NHL with eight points (3G, 5A) last week to help Winnipeg to a 3-0-1 record as the club's point streak reached five games (4-0-1)...On Thursday, the Jets forward had an assist in the Jets' 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues...On Saturday, Connor recorded four points (1G, 3A) in Winnipeg's 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators...The Shelby Township, Mich. native finished the week with three points (2G, 1A) in the Jets' come-from-behind 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

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 (8) - Bitetto, Bourque, Brossoit, Chibisov, Kulikov, Letestu, Perreault, Shaw

Waivers (3) - Dahlstrom, Sbisa, Shore

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