AT THE MORNING SKATE
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — In preparation for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Head Coach Paul Maurice discovered the good news; a revelation, of sorts.
“It’s the first time all year that this group of D will play as a unit.”
Indeed, the Winnipeg Jets are healthier now than they’ve been all season. (Knock on wood.)
Mark Stuart is the latest to the return after missing two games with a nagging lower-body injury. Stuart originally returned to the lineup on Jan. 10 after missing three-and-a-half weeks, but went back on IR after only six games as the injury refused to heal up to 100 percent.
“He didn’t keep healing. He kind of plateaued in terms of how he was feeling,” Maurice said. “We took that extra time over the break to help get him feeling strong. He’s a leader in our room, he defines our attitude and how we want to play. We’ve got a number of really good players around him on the back end, so it’s good to finally get a look at that group together."
Added Stuart: “I was really excited about how (the injury) came along so quickly,” Stuart said of the original timeline. “It’s tough coming in and going back out again. Coming back from injury, you just want to come back and stay in. But there’s no point in being in (the lineup) if I can’t be 100 percent.
“Taking a game off before the break and after the break was really big.”
Stuart will be paired with Jacob Trouba, while the other duos will remain as is. Jay Harrison, Paul Postma and Adam Pardy will be scratched.
“We’ve got some really healthy competition at that position,” Maurice said. “They need to stay in the lineup because other guys are hungry to get in. We hope they all understand the value of the opportunity they have to play.”
As a result of Stuart coming off IR, the Jets have placed forward TJ Galiardi on waivers.
There are no other changes to report, aside from the starting goaltender. Michael Hutchinson will get nod between the pipes. The 24-year-old is coming off a 29-save shutout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and is on a four-game winning streak overall. Hutchinson is 14-4-2 on the year, along with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.
On the other side, the Flyers will counter with Steve Mason, who, in 30 appearances this season, has a 9-12-6 record, along with a 2.41GAA and .921SV%.
It’s been an up and down year for the struggling Flyers, who are well off the pace in the Metropolitan Division. Ten points back of a wild card playoff spot, time is the enemy.
“They won a game, they’re feeling good and are in full push mode to get back into the fight, and we know as well as anybody,” Maurice said. “We expect their best tonight.”
In their only meeting of the season back on Dec. 21 at MTS Centre, the Flyers (20-22-7) rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime. The league’s leading scorer, Jake Voracek, had a pair that night, including the game-winner 10 seconds into the extra period.
Voracek has 17 goals and 40 assists for 57 points this season. Tonight, he’ll line up alongside Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux on the Flyers’ top line.
“They’ve got a lot of guys that can put up points. It’s a powerful forward group,” Maurice said. “When they get moving in transition, they skate well through the neutral zone and make plays inside the blue line. … Giroux and Voracek – really, really special.”
“It’s been a while since that game,” Jets forward Mathieu Perreault added. “We blew a lead, but we’ve come a long ways since.”
Perreault returned to the lineup on Tuesday in Pittsburgh after missing two games with an upper-body injury.
“I didn’t play my best,” he said. “I didn’t feel as good as I did before I got hurt, but now it’s behind me and I’ve been practicing hard to get back in game shape.
“I’ll be good tonight.”
A sentiment shared by a number of Jets at today’s morning skate. The team is hungry to get back in the win column and return home with an important two points.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com