WINNIPEG -- The final home stand of the regular season begins tonight at MTS Centre when the Winnipeg Jets (31-38-7) host the Ottawa Senators.
The Jets come in to tonight off a 3-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia two nights ago. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler scored in the game, and along with rookie Nikolaj Ehlers, the line combined for 15 of the team’s 28 shots on goal.
Scheifele has set a career high in goals (25) and points (52) with six games remaining in the regular season. He says he feels the chemistry the three have developed is something that can carry over to next season.
“We want to become a dominant line in this league. One night can’t make that. It has to be a continual thing. You have to be consistent,” said Scheifele. “That’s what we’re building toward. Hopefully we continue to build it now and into the future. It’s definitely a goal of ours in these last few games.”
Prior to the game against Philadelphia, Wheeler said games against teams in the battle for a playoff spot are fun to play. Ottawa (34-33-9) sits 10 points back of Philadelphia for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference with six games to go.
So while the Senators are a bit further outside the playoff race than the Flyers, Mark Stuart says there is still plenty to play for tonight.
“No matter where you’re at, you still want to compete, you still want to win. There’s no difference there. We’re playing against some teams that are still fighting for it. It’s still fun hockey out there,” Stuart said. “You still have the competitive nature. You want win the game first of all, you want to finish the season strong no matter what, and you want to continue to prove yourself.”
The mental challenge in a game like tonight’s, according to head coach Paul Maurice, is the amount of risk each team plays with. He says Philadelphia didn’t play with much risk due to how much they have on the line in the playoff race.
“What you’re afraid of in a game is you start making plays that you wouldn’t make when there was something on the line,” said Maurice. “You’ll see it with (Scheifele’s) line especially. We’re asking those guys to push their boundaries a little bit and read those plays they can make, and give them room to make those plays.
“At the same time … we’re trying to win a hockey game.”
Earlier in the day, the Jets recalled Chase De Leo from the Manitoba Moose on an emergency basis. He’s there in case Chris Thorburn can’t play tonight.
“We want to get (Chris) back to the rink again tonight. His morning skate was pretty good. Wasn’t feeling great yesterday, but he’s feeling much better today,” said Maurice. “So we’ll see how he comes back and gets into the skate tonight.”
The 20-year-old De Leo played his first two NHL games with the Jets during the last home stand. With the Moose, the forward has 16 goals and 33 points in 66 games.
Should Thorburn not be able to play tonight, it would be the first time this season number 22 would be out of the line-up. The Jets have lost 223 man games to injury in 2015-2016, with 80 of those coming since mid February.
With veterans like Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers done for the season, the final few regular season games are a chance for young players like De Leo to show what they can do.
There is just one thing Drew Stafford wants to make sure they know.
“Our main concern is that they don’t get comfortable. They don’t realize that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” he said. “We’re not in this business to lose games and miss the playoffs.”
BRANDON TANEV UPDATE
After signing 24-year-old forward Brandon Tanev to a one-year, two-way contract earlier today, Maurice outlined the plans for getting the former Providence Friars senior on the ice.
“He’s going to get in later today. We’ll get him out on the ice over the next few days,” said Maurice. “I would like to see him in some games. I don’t have one scheduled yet. But we’re happy he chose us and we’re excited.”
Tanev, the younger brother of Vancouver’s Chris Tanev, tallied 15 goals and 28 points with the Friars in 2015-2016. His NCAA season came to an end when Providence was eliminated by Minnesota-Duluth on Mar. 25.
Tanev helped the Friars to last season’s NCAA men’s hockey championship, when he scored the game-winning goal against Boston University in the final.
“(He has) real good speed, but more importantly (he’s) on the puck, (and has) a real high intensity,” said Maurice. “The biggest challenge sometimes you have with young players coming into the NHL from amateur is the pace… The idea that parts of your shift aren’t coasting, you’re on the puck. He’s got that.”