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Jets host Blue Jackets, eye fifth straight win

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

AT THE MORNING SKATE


WINNIPEG
“It should be a hell of a game.”

That’s the spirit!

Head Coach Paul Maurice has reason to be excited as the Winnipeg Jets host the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at 8:00pm CT at MTS Centre.

Defenceman Jacob Trouba is ready go after sitting out 16 games with a lower-body injury.

“The same thing we asked of Zach (Bogosian) and all those other guys,” Maurice said when asked about what he hopes to see from the young blueliner.

“Simplicity. Get it, move it.”

Trouba will be paired with veteran Jay Harrison on the back end.

“The speed of the game is something you can’t replicate in practice and that’s what they miss,” Maurice said. “The puck’s going to drop and that guy is going to be on him faster than he thinks. His ability to take it and move it right away will buy him time to get into the rhythm of the game. That’s some of his skill-set, so we’re expecting a real small curve here.

With Trouba coming off injured reserve, Mathieu Perreault has been placed on IR to make room on the roster.

Mark Stuart, who did not participate in yesterday’s practice or today’s morning skate, could play tonight if needed. But, factoring in the upcoming NHL All-Star Break, it was agreed that he would benefit from the additional time off.

With it being the final game before the aforementioned break, the Jets are looking to go out on a winning note.

The Jets (25-14-8) trail the Chicago Blackhawks by only two points in the Central Division, but continue to pace the Western Conference wild card race with 58 points, five up on the Calgary Flames and six better than the first non-playoff team, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.

Some additional motivation: A win tonight would mean the Jets would record a five-game winning streak for the first time in nearly two full seasons (Apr. 6-18, 2013).

“We need to stay focused,” Bryan Little, the Jets’ leading goal-scorer, said following the morning skate. “We can’t be thinking about how good it’s going to be to have a few days off. We’ve got to focus on closing it out tonight. It’s a big of a challenge, but it happens every year. You’re going to have a break of some sort and you’ll always have that last game before. It’s up to us to come ready to play tonight.”

Little has 18 goals and 37 points in 47 games this season.

The Blue Jackets are only 5-5-0 in their previous 10 coming in, but after an awful start to the season abetted by injuries to the team’s key contributors, they’re now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League, recording 29 points (14-6-1) in December and January (so far). 

That stretch included a seven-game winning streak from Dec. 1-16.

The Jets won the only previous meeting between these two teams, 4-2 on Nov. 25 at Nationwide Arena.

“I expect them to play like one of the best teams in the NHL because if you look at their last two months, they are,” Maurice said. “ This is a good team. The team that we’re going to see tonight is the team that made the playoffs last year. They’re feeling good about their game and they should.

"They’ve been through the worst, but now their elements are back. They’ve got a great power-play, they can grind you, they can shut you down… They’ve got great speed and they remind me a little bit of our club when we’re playing well. If we play our butts off, this is going to be a great game.”

Michael Hutchinson will get the start in goal for the Jets. The 24-year-old is currently on a personal three-game winning streak (tying a career-high), and is 13-4-2 overall this season.

His 2.00 goals-against average is third in the NHL, behind only Brian Elliott (1.86) and Pekka Rinne (1.96) of the Central Division rival St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, respectively. With a save percentage of .932, Hutchinson trails only one – Calvin Pickard of the Colorado Avalanche (.936) – for the league lead.

Fresh off signing a new four-year, $29.7 million extension, the Blue Jackets will counter with all-star Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 25 of 26 in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild, snapping a personal four-game losing streak.

Following tonight’s game, the Jets (aside from Dustin Byfuglien) will get a much-needed four-day break. The team will be back on action next Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

“We need the break,” Maurice said. “We’ve got too many guys in the training room at this point with those bumps and bruises. Going forward, the schedule gets a little lighter in terms of rest days, but our competition gets quite a bit heavier.

“But I also think we’re lucky it’s not a week off. It’s the right number of days.”

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com
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