Toby Enstrom, Mark Stuart and Evander Kane will all suit up tonight as the Winnipeg Jets go head-to-head with the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2 of a three-game road trip.
Combined, these three difference-makers were out of commission for more than 11 weeks, totalling 33 man games dating back to Nov. 23.
Tonight, the defensive pairings will be as follows: Ben Chiarot-Dustin Byfuglien; Enstrom-Zach Bogosian; Stuart-Jay Harrison.
Adam Pardy (day-to-day) and Paul Postma will come out of the lineup.
“It’s nice to get some guys back,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said after the morning skate at the Toyota Sports Center.
“We have a bunch of defencemen that came in, played big minutes – some more than they’re used to – and played very well. It’s good that we’ve developed a bit of depth on our blue line through a difficult stretch.”
Added Stuart: “It’s good to be back. Toby’s been out the longest, so he’s been itching. It’s nice to see guys getting healthy.”
Stuart, who leads all Jets defenceman in plus/minus with a six on the positive ledger, knows that after an extended layoff, simplicity is key.
“That’s the most important thing – keeping things simple and keeping my shifts short,” he said. “I’m excited about it. It’s been far too long.”
Up front, Kane will line up alongside Adam Lowry and Matt Halischuk. His return comes quicker than many expected, as the original forecast indicated a longer-term recovery through the month of the January. Acknowledging some residual pain, the 23-year-old is taking the necessary precautions to limit that and provide some additional security.
“(The doctors) wanted to make sure I was able to skate the way I would normally and once that wasn’t an issue and I could deal with the pain, it was pretty much up to me. I’m wearing shot blockers tonight, so that will give me a little extra protection.
“With the type of injury it is, skating is a bit easier because it’s a stable boot. You’re going to have bumps and bruises and you’re going to be sore after this type of injury, but I think I can play and I think I can contribute – and that’s why I’m playing tonight.”
As a result, Patrice Cormier and Keaton Ellerby have been assigned to the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League.
Tonight’s contest is the definition of the oft-uttered “four-point game.”
The Jets (20-14-7) and Kings (19-13-9) are tied atop in the Western Conference wild card race with 47 points in 41 games played. While the defending Stanley Cup Champions have not had the season they were hoping for, the talent is there – and the danger is real.
“You never get to look at them and say they’re struggling,” Maurice said. “The Nashville game (7-6 overtime loss) is an example of a game that they’re capable of.”
“We definitely need to get things back on the right track to where we were before Christmas,” Byfuglien added. “We’re not far off, but the little things need to improve. “It’s a big test for us this weekend.”
Michael Hutchinson will get the start in goal for the Jets, while the Kings will counter with Jonathan Quick.
Hutchinson (10-4-2) continues to lead the NHL with a .936 save percentage and is second only to Brian Elliott with an exceptional goals-against average of .181.
Quick, meanwhile, is 16-10-7 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.