AT THE MORNING SKATE
WINNIPEG – The injury bug, while no stranger to the Winnipeg Jets this season, has reared its ugly head again.
The Jets will be without one of their leading scorers, Blake Wheeler, tonight as he recovers from a lower-body injury. This, coming on the heels of the announcement that rookie defenceman Ben Chiarot will miss the next six weeks after having surgery to repair broken bones in his left hand.
Mathieu Perreault, of course, remains out with a “significant” lower-body injury that may sideline him for the rest of the regular season.
As a result, the Jets have recalled centre Eric O’Dell from the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League. In 37 games on The Rock this season, the 24-year-old has recorded 14 goals, 29 points, 34 penalty minutes and a -4 rating. O’Dell appeared in 30 games with the Jets last season, tallying three goals and four assists.
O’Dell is currently en route to Winnipeg and could play tonight, according to Head Coach Paul Maurice.
Michael Frolik will take Wheeler’s spot on the top line alongside Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd.
The full forward line combinations are as follows:
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Michael Frolik
Dustin Byfuglien - Mark Scheifele - Drew Stafford
TJ Galiardi - Adam Lowry - Chris Thorburn
Carl Klingberg - Jim Slater - Anthony Peluso
“Hopefully we get off to a quick start and find some chemistry early on,” Frolik said. “I try to play the same way all the time. … I’m going to be skating hard and creating some space for them out there.”
With the injuries up front, the team’s leading scorer, Bryan Little, is hoping for a defensive effort tonight.
“It’s important for us to get back to that good defensive game that we were playing earlier in the season,” he said. “We’re missing some of our leading scorers, so our main focus has to be on not getting into a game where we’re trading opportunities with these guys.
"If we have to win in a low-scoring game, then we’ll do that.”
On the blue line:
Jay Harrison will draw back into the lineup tonight after sitting out the past 12 games. No. 23 last played on Jan. 27 at Pittsburgh and is understandably excited about returning.
“It’s a great opportunity. It’s an important time of year and these are the games you want to play. When you’re away from the game, whether it’s in the summer or out of the playoffs, as in years past, these are the important ones that you miss. I’m glad I have an opportunity to do it.”
Harrison will be paired with Adam Pardy; Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers will continue to anchor the team’s top pairing, while Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba will also remain a duo.
Clawing their way back into contention after winning four of their previous five contests, the Stars are coming off a 6-2 loss to the red-hot Minnesota Wild and have now lost three in a row (0-2-1).
The Stars trail the Jets by eight points in the Western Conference Wild Card standings. Life without Tyler Seguin (knee) has been cruel one so far.
As for the Jets, they currently hold the first of two wild-card spots, but are only three points up on the cut line.
“You’re going to have two teams that are both pretty wired coming into this game,” Maurice said. “Dallas knows that at six (points) out, you can’t get from eight and 10 (back) very much longer. We’re right there, pushing the team that’s ahead of us and we’re in the mix for a bunch of really good hockey teams. … We’re not avoiding the pressure. Pressure comes to every good team. The team that handles it the best gets a big silver trophy at the end. We want to learn how to handle it.”
In goal, it will be Michael Hutchinson for the Jets going up against Jhonas Enroth of the Stars. Enroth was acquired back on Feb. 11 and is still searching for his first win with his new club (0-2-0, 4.00GAA). Hutchinson, meanwhile, has earned eight of a possible 10 points in his last five starts. The 24-year-old is 13-13-7 on the year, sporting a 2.60 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
“If you’re successful at this point, you’re going,” Maurice said, highlighting the importance of having both goaltenders playing regularly. “I’m planning on at least 65 (minutes) tonight. That’s enough.”
Tonight kicks off a four-game, 10-day homestand for the Jets, who haven’t had a stretch at home this long in almost three months. Time to make some hay? Maurice thinks so.
“We’re going to get some rest time, some practice time … and hopefully some healing time, too.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com