ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- One look at the Central Division standings shows how tough this four-game road trip will be for the Winnipeg Jets.
The combined record of the four divisional opponents the Jets will face over the next seven days is 38-12-5. But Head Coach Paul Maurice is focused on only one number.
“To play well and have success in any of these games, you’ve really got to be on your game which means you focus on this one, and this one only, in terms of how you run the bench as a coach,” said Maurice following today’s morning skate. “You’re not saving anything for the next night.”
One also happens to be the number of losses tonight’s opponent, the Minnesota Wild, have at home so far this season. Blake Wheeler, who leads the team in points with 17 through 15 games, says the Wild’s team speed has a lot to do with their success at Xcel Energy Center.
“They’re quick. They play fast in this building. The crowd is pretty vocal,” said Wheeler. I think they feed off the energy in the building and our goal is to make it as boring as possible for them."
Tonight’s game is the second of five meetings between the Jets and Wild, with Winnipeg taking the first of those meetings 5-4 on October 25 at MTS Centre. Defenceman Mark Stuart played 20:49 in that win and says the Jets can take a couple things from that win, besides the points.
“I think you look at some of their tendencies and stuff like that, but as far as the score, you have to re-focus every game in this league,” Stuart said. “No matter if you won 7-1 or lost 7-1, every game is competitive, and every game is a new experience, and every team is good. We can take maybe some of the things that worked for us in that game, but that’s about it.”
Andrew Copp took regular line rushes this morning and is expected to return to the line-up after missing the last four games with an injury.
“It kind of made a dent in the big night,” said Copp, who was injured in the same game he scored his first NHL goal. “It’s one of those things. It’s going to happen and you just have to work through it.”
Maurice said earlier this month he liked how Copp was progressing during his rookie season and hoped the centre wouldn’t be out too long. Now, all the coach wants from the 21-year-old is to pick up right where he left off.
“Our so-called fourth line, has done a really good job this year with Andrew in, and with Andrew out, of spending more time in the offensive zone than they do in the defensive zone,” said Maurice. “That’s what you’re looking for from those guys. You want to see them bang a few in and be plus players, and they are.”
Speaking of injuries, Minnesota forward Zach Parise will not play tonight because of an MCL injury in his right knee. Parise, who leads the Wild in goals with seven, is also expected miss the team’s entire four-game road trip, which begins in Carolina on November 12.
Along with Parise, blue liner Marco Scandella (away from the team for personal reasons) will not suit up tonight. Nate Prosser will replace Scandella, while Kurtis Gabriel was called up Iowa to fill Parise’s roster spot, and will play his first NHL game tonight.
“I read an article this morning that said they score more without Parise in the line-up, but they don’t defend quite as well,” Maurice said. “He’s a great all-around player, and you miss those guys. But in the National League, everybody gets used to missing key guys.”
Puck drop tonight is 7 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com