DALLAS, Texas -- The Winnipeg Jets get their first crack at the Central Division leaders tonight when they take on the Dallas Stars (12-4-0) at American Airlines Center.
It’s game number two of a four-game divisional road trip for the Jets (8-6-2), who are looking to rebound from a 5-3 loss in Minnesota on Tuesday.
“We weren't happy with our game in Minnesota, but that's behind us now,” said defenceman Mark Stuart. “Big game against a really good team tonight. I think we're excited to get back out there."
This will be the first of five meetings this season between the Jets and Stars, with Winnipeg taking three of four from Dallas in 2014-2015.
Dallas comes into tonight’s game second in the NHL in goals with 56 in 16 games. That is thanks in large part to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, who sit second and third in league scoring with 23 and 21 points respectively.
But not far behind them is Jets forward Blake Wheeler, whose 19 points, and over a point-per-game average have him fourth place on that list. Not to be out done, line mate Bryan Little recorded his seventh multi-point game of the season in Tuesday’s loss to the Wild, tying him with Benn and Seguin for the league lead in multi-point efforts.
“I think Bryan, along with Andrew (Ladd) and Tyler (Myers), in the first few games of the season showed a bit of missing training camp. Since that, since game three or four, (Little has been) very quick,” said coach Paul Maurice. “Blake getting off to his start is also a function of Bryan’s play. I don’t want to say he’s matured into a good pro. Bryan Little was a player I really didn’t know a whole lot about when I got here, and was really pleasantly surprised in terms of his professionalism daily. So I’m not surprised he’s had big nights, or that he’s having some success.”
Despite being the division leaders, the Stars have only faced one opponent from the Central in their 16 games. That came in the first week of the regular season, a 6-3 loss to Colorado. Dallas comes into tonight’s match up with Winnipeg after a 3-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday.
“In all the games we’ve watched, even the game here where they lost to Toronto, there were probably 10 other goals that could have gone in,” Maurice said of the Stars. “They have an incredible offensive group. They find each other. But their big component right now as a confident team, they’re very quick. On turnovers or on loose pucks in the defensive zone, they’re on top of them, and they have a skill set that makes plays on those.”
Stuart, who will be re-united with Jacob Trouba on the blue line tonight after two games with Paul Postma, says Benn and Seguin aren’t the only two players the Jets have to keep an eye on.
“They’re pretty deep all the way through. They have some d-men back there that can move the puck, and they jump up in the play, good speed, and their goaltending has been good,” he said. “They’ve been firing on all cylinders lately. It’s a team we know we can beat if we all play as a group and play our game.”
According to Maurice, Ondrej Pavelec will be back between the pipes for the Jets tonight. He’ll go up against Kari Lehtonen of Dallas.
“I like both goaltenders, I don’t know that the final score has been any indication of how well the goalies have played. I’m comfortable with both. We thought our schedule allowed for Pav to get into some games here and get on a bit of a run,” said Maurice. “We’ve struggled a little bit right now, and when that happens, some confidence goes. So you want to put some pressure on those veteran guys to get in there and be the difference.”
That difference could also come from the Jets getting the quickness back in their game. Something they worked on in yesterday’s practice. Stuart believes it’s something the team can get back to, with the right mindset.
“We know how to play that game. A lot of it is mental. I think physically we’re capable of it for sure,” said Stuart. “It’s just getting back to it and getting comfortable in that type of game. We know we can get there.”
The puck drops tonight at 7:30 pm central time.
Earlier this morning, Jets head coach Paul Maurice was named to Team Europe’s coaching staff for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which runs Sept. 17 – Oct. 1, 2016 in Toronto.
Maurice will serve as an assistant coach under Ralph Krueger.
“Very excited to work with Ralph. He’s a real interesting guy. He’s been around hockey for an awfully long time,” said Maurice. “He’s done a tremendous amount of work in leadership, building organizations, and motivating them. It will be a great opportunity, a bunch of players I’ve never worked before, and a great challenge.”
To see Maurice’s full comments on the World Cup of Hockey and his role, click here.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com