CANONSBURG, Pennsylvania – All right, everyone. Back to work!
Following a four-day break for the NHL All-Star Game and a three-hour flight to the wintry Steel City, the Winnipeg Jets were back on the ice for practice today at the Southpointe Iceoplex in Canonsburg, PA.
“Good break. We needed it,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “With the stretch of games we had our medical room was starting to fill up with the things that can heal up in two or three days. That was a well-timed break for us, but for there’s an excitement here – I feel it – to get back on this push. There aren’t any more breaks and the hockey changes gears now. … We’re going to see desperation from a lot of teams, the top-end teams, which will continue build up towards the end. The game amps up – it’s more physical and it’s all part of the path that we’ve tried to be on throughout the year.”
The unofficial second half of the season kicks off tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be without Sidney Crosby as he recovers from a lower-body injury suffered prior to the All-Star Break.
Evgeni Malkin is also out with a lower-body injury. As a result, the Penguins placed him on IR earlier today.
On the topic of injuries, the Jets may have one of their leading goal-scorers back in the fold for tomorrow’s pivotal road game. Mathieu Perreault (upper body) participated in practice today after missing the past two games. Skating on a line with Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik, Perreault declared himself ready after the hour-long skate.
“The few days we had off helped,” he said. “I felt really good today so I should be good to go.”
Perreault has 22 points in his last 19 games, and 25 goals and 29 points overall.
The 27-year-old is only three goals off his career high of 18, which he set in 60 games last season with the Anaheim Ducks.
“I was on a bit of a hot streak and was playing well. Hopefully this seven or 10 [days] that I’ve had off didn’t hurt too much and I’m able to get right back to where I was,” Perreault said.
“This rest was good for us. It was good to get away from it, but it was great getting back to the rink today. The guys were excited and the mood was really good.”
Maurice did not confirm whether or not Perreault will be in the lineup tomorrow night, but did say that he was encouraged by No. 85’s progress.
“We’re going to give it the day,” Maurice said. “Experience tells you that anyone coming off injuries, they get to skate once and we’ll see how they are tomorrow. … But I think we’re pretty close to healthy at this point. We missed (Perreault) in a lot of areas. Clearly he has an important role on our power-play. Even though I didn’t mind what our power-play was trying to do, it’s not as effective when he’s not there. Other than that, for a guy that’s not big, he brings a lot of energy into our lineup. Finish checks, on the puck and competing at a real high level. That’s infectious.
“Good player. We missed him.”
Both the Jets (26-14-8) and Penguins (26-12-8) come into tomorrow’s contest with 60 points on the year.
The Jets, who are currently riding a season-high five-game winning streak, have a seven-point lead in the Western Conference wild card race and are only two points back of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks for second in the Central Division.
The Penguins, meanwhile, have lost two in a row – both in overtime – and are currently two points up on the New York Rangers for second spot in the Metropolitan Division.
“Everyone here wants to make the playoffs,” Scheifele said. “Being there and having a spot right now, we don’t want to lose it.
“We want to continue to press and raise our standing even more.”
GIMME A BREAK
While some players opted to stay home in Winnipeg, many others chose a more exotic locale for spending their rare, mid-season break.
From the hot and sunny (Cancun, Miami, etc.) to the cloudy and cold (Aspen, New York City) and everything in between, the Jets made the most of their hard-earned time off.
“It was nice to get away for a few days, rest and let our bodies recover a little bit,” said goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who spent the weekend playing a Manhattan tourist. “It came at the perfect time. We got a bit of a refresher but we’ve got the itch and are ready to go.
“I stayed at Grand Central Station so it was pretty cool to see all that.”
Scheifele spent the weekend in Aspen, CO, supporting his girlfriend, 2014 Winter Olympic Champion Dara Howell, as she competd in the X Games.
Howell took home a bronze medal for her performance in Slopestyle Skiing.
“It was the most nerve-racking thing of my life. I didn’t eat all day waiting for (the event) to come,” Scheifele said. “It was definitely pretty fun when it was all said and done.
"Seeing how happy she was, it was an unbelievable experience.”
-- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com