WINNIPEG – As the Winnipeg Jets look to get back in the win column tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a common thread emerged at the morning skate:
“It’s about getting back to our game.
“That’s the challenge tonight.”
The Leafs are coming in having lost three of their last four, including a 3-1 decision last night in Minnesota. With late-night travel resulting in a 1:00am arrival for the visitors, the Jets know a quick start will be key against their weary-eyed opponents.
“Back-to-backs are tough in this league, so that’s going to be an opportunity for us,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said, “but they’re also pretty strong in back-to-backs, they skate well and they can score goals.”
Indeed, the Jets aren’t taking anything for granted.
Toronto comes in as the Eastern Conference wild card leader, assembling a 25-15-3 record for 45 points. With the likes of Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk – both hovering in point-per-game terrain – offering the artillery, and Jonathan Bernier doing the rest with an exceptional first half, the Leafs remain a formidable foe.
Still, it’s up to the Jets to establish their game on MTS Centre ice.
“It’s about us getting back to our game, feeling good about it, doing the little things well and putting it all together for 60 minutes,” Jets defenceman Jay Harrison said. “Over the course of any season there are going to be incomplete games. We’ve done a lot of things well in the last few games, but there are definitely some areas that we can tighten up in and get back to the quality we expect.”
Leading goal-getter Bryan Little agrees, adding that some extra emphasis will be placed on shoring up their defensive game against the high-powered Leafs offence.
“We have to play a little better defensively than we have in our past two games,” he said. “This is a team (Toronto) that thrives off turnovers and they’ve got a good transition game, so we can’t be turning pucks over and we have to be on high alert for their offensive guys.”
Michael Hutchinson will get the start in goal. The 27-year-old product of Barrie, ON, has posted a 9-3-2 record, along with a league-leading 1.87 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 15 appearances this season.
“He’s been really impressive this year,” Little said of the goaltender. “He’s one of the harder workers on our team. You see him out there after practice taking shots and doing stuff that he doesn’t have to, but he wants to get better and work on his game. He’s come in and done a great job for us. He’s definitely won us some hockey games this year.”
While the top two lines will remain the same for tonight’s contest (Little-Ladd-Wheeler, Perreault-Scheifele-Frolik), some new combinations will be debuted in the Bottom 6.
Matt Halischuk, TJ Galiardi and Adam Lowry will compose the third line, while Chris Thorburn, Jim Slater and Anthony Peluso will skate on the fourth unit.
There are no other lineup changes.
Puck drop goes at 6pm CT tonight and you can catch all the action live on Hockey Night in Canada or on TSN1290.
-- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com