WINNIPEG -- Tonight’s final game before the All-Star break is a good news/bad news situation for the Winnipeg Jets (21-24-3).
The good news: the team will have centre Mark Scheifele back in the line-up tonight against the Arizona Coyotes (24-19-5).
The bad news: the Jets will be without Mathieu Perreault, and potentially Bryan Little, who will be a game-time decision tonight.
“We had to have him looked at this morning, and run some tests,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “The plan is right now, unless something changes, is he's going to take warm-up, and if he feels good he's going to play."
If Little can’t go, Maurice plans to put Blake Wheeler back in the middle, where he finished up Saturday’s game against New Jersey.
“I’m not saying that that’s a long-term option, but if Blake was to go in the middle and catch fire, we’d leave him there for as long as he was on fire, and see how long that developed,” said Maurice. “It’ll change maybe what you think about different players, different wingers, going forward. There’s an opportunity.”
Having Scheifele and his 23 points in 37 games back in the line-up is a boost for the Jets, who are looking to get back in the win column after dropping their last three games.
“It sucks being out. I’m definitely pretty happy to be back in the line up,” said Scheifele, who has missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury. “I’m going to have to try and get the first few shifts out of the way early, and get my feet under me. But after that, hopefully I can get back to where I left off.”
Scheifele went through line rushes with Drew Stafford and Joel Armia on the wings this morning. The 22-year-old Scheifele has played with Stafford previously, but has yet to have Armia on his wing.
“When you’re in the NHL, every guy here is a good player. No matter who you’re playing with, they’re going to be able to make plays. Hopefully we can find that chemistry early and hopefully we can put in a few,” said Scheifele. “Watching him, he’s a pretty gifted player. He’s smart, he skates well, he’s got great hands and good vision. I’m excited to play with him.”
Over the last month, the Jets have seen a number of injuries at the centre ice position. While Scheifele is due to return tonight, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, and Little are all at various stages of recovery.
“They just have a huge impact, centre ice men, on how the puck gets moved from your end, what gets created in the offensive zone. In Little and Scheifele and Perreault’s case, they’re offensive players as well,” said Maurice. “Just the skill level of them regardless of position, it’s hard to find answers for those guys when they’re out of your line-up.”
Tonight will be the third and final meeting of the season between the Jets and the Coyotes. The two teams have split the first two contests, with each team picking up two points at home. Since the Jets relocated to Winnipeg in 2011, the Coyotes have never won in the Manitoba capital.
Arizona picked up a 2-1 shootout win in Minnesota last night, making this the eighth time the Jets face an opponent on the back end of back-to-back games.
“They’re scrappy games. There’s a lot going on in the games,” Maurice said of how the two teams match up. “There’s a lot of banging and tempers get rolling pretty early. They have a real good power play. It had cooled off for a while, but it’s back on. One of the best in the league, Ekman-Larsson, at finding that two-inch gap to get the puck through to get it to the net. Kind of like us, they’ve had a goaltender come in through injury and be really good for them.”
That goaltender is Louis Domingue, who made 35 saves on New Year’s Eve in a 4-2 Coyotes victory over the Jets. Overall, Domingue is 9-2-3 in his 14 starts, bringing the Coyotes to third spot in the Pacific Division.
The Jets come into tonight’s game seventh in the Central, and hope a win tonight, plus a few days to recover during the All-Star break, can spark a streak that moves them back up the standings.
“Obviously we’re going through a little bit of adversity. In saying that, the last thing we want to do is feel down on ourselves,” said Tyler Myers. “The guys are doing a good job of staying upbeat, staying positive. We’re going to have to do that to string some wins together.”
That process starts tonight, regardless of injuries, says Maurice.
“On any given night, you have 20 guys, you have enough to win the game,” he said. “That’s your mindset going in every single night.”