WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets got some good news on the injury front Friday as ailing forwards Mark Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov and Drew Stafford officially re-joined practice.
Donning orange-coloured non-contact jerseys, all three skated for the full hour, while Stafford even took some time on the second power play unit – a sign he could return as soon as tomorrow when the Jets host their former teammates Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and the New Jersey Devils.
Stafford and Burmistrov are “fairly close” to being game ready, according to Head Coach Paul Maurice, but their status for tomorrow is still unknown.
“We’ll see how they react to (today’s practice),” Maurice said.
Stafford (upper body) has missed the past three games, while Burmistrov was a game-time decision last night but did not play. If Stafford is activated off injured reserve, the Jets will have to have to send a player down to the Manitoba Moose to make room on the 23-man roster.
“It’s good to see them back out there,” centre Mathieu Perreault said of the injured trio. “What we’ve been going through, we need those guys. That’s an extra line for us if they can get on for next game, so that would be great.”
Patrice Cormier and JC Lipon were both recalled when Stafford and fellow forward Adam Lowry were placed on IR last week. Lowry (upper body), meanwhile did not skate today and hasn’t since making a brief appearance in the warmup for last Friday’s game in Minnesota.
“It feels good,” Stafford said of his injury. “We’ll see. I’m not sure yet about tomorrow but I’ve definitely been making some progress over the past few days. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. So far it’s been feeling better every day.
“The hardest thing to get back would be the lungs. Playing at a high level, the amount of lactate you generate, it’s tough to take some time off. But at the same time you can use that time to heal up a couple other things, too, so there are positives in all of it. It’s definitely tough when you’re trying to work your way back in and get that conditioning, but I was lucky enough that wasn’t too
significant of an injury, so I haven’t missed too much time.”
Stafford has 14 goals, including four power-play markers this year, putting him second on the Jets in that department. He says the hardest part about sitting out is watching the team struggle offensively, which – combined with a sputtering power play – has been the root of their recent defeats.
The Jets have only one goal in each of their past three games, and while one resulted in a victory (1-0 over the Wild), it isn’t a recipe for success.
The power play went 0-for-4 versus Nashville and is now operating at 15.1 percent efficiency. Only the Calgary Flames have had a more difficult time with the man advantage this season, scoring on just 14.9 percent of their 141 opportunities.
The Jets, who are now six points out of a playoff spot, spent a good chunk of time on that today, honing a new strategy that saw Dustin Byfuglien parked in front of the net.
Asked what he’s hoping to see out of the new unit, Maurice offered a brief and to-the-point response: “Goals.
“A little change of focus on what we’re trying to accomplish on it.”
PAV’S BACK (AT PRACTICE)
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (knee) was also back out for the full team practice today after getting some limited solo work in over the past few days.
There is still no timeline on when the veteran may return, but for now, he’s just happy to be back, pain free.
“It’s been a long two months and I haven’t seen any shots, and that’s a little bit of a different movement, but I’m ready to practice,” he said. “We’ll see how long it will take me to get back into game shape, but it was good to be on the ice with the guys.”
Pavelec was injured Nov. 21 when Arizona forward Shane Doan ploughed into him at full speed. The goalie doesn’t have any ill will toward the Coyote captain, but as a result of the play, Pavelec will miss his 27th straight game tomorrow.
“It was a scary accident. I didn’t even see him coming. At the same time, I can be happy it was only this injury and it wasn’t something more serious.”
The incident happened late in the middle frame that night. Amazingly, Pavelec did play the final 4:45 of the period, but did not return for the third.
“I tried to stay in. Sometimes you get hit, you feel pain but the pain goes away right away. I didn’t want to leave the game, come to the dressing room and feel like I could play, so I waited. We had the power play, so I only faced a couple more shots. It gave (Michael Hutchinson) a few minutes to warm up; otherwise I would have put him in a bad spot. I thought I was able to play, but I made some moves and I couldn’t even get up. I made the right choice [coming out].”
In 15 appearances this season, Pavelec has a 5-6-1 record, along with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com