Jets kick off road trip with pivotal game vs. Flames
Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick)
/ Winnipeg Jets
AT THE MORNING SKATE
CALGARY, Alberta – In a pivotal matchup capturing national intrigue, both the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames understand the implications.
At this point in the season, the games don’t get any bigger.
“We’re both young teams that weren’t predicted to be fighting in the wild card spots or in any playoff look at this time of the year,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “They’ve been resilient. They’ve had their stretches where they’ve lost a bunch in a row, came back, fought and won. We’re going to learn how to do that again right here.”
Calgary is coming off an emotional, come-from-behind win over the Edmonton Oilers this past Saturday. Rallying back from a 2-0 deficit in the final 20 minutes, the Flames handed their provincial rivals a 4-2 loss at Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Flames lead the league in third-period goals with 63 and also have an NHL-best nine wins when trailing after two periods.
The Jets come into the night on a three-game losing streak, with much of the blame falling on a once-vaunted penalty-killing unit struggling to regain its confidence.
And yet, there’s absolutely no panic in and around the Jets’ locker room. This is team focused on the task at hand.
“We know exactly where we are [in the standings],” Maurice said of the proverbial four-point game. “We don’t have a team meeting about it every day. We know what division we play in, we know who we’re playing tonight… Our concern is and has been making sure our game looks a certain way. If we lost a game and it looked the way it’s supposed to look, we’d move on to the next one. If we won a game and it didn’t, we dealt with it after that next game.
“Our game has to look a certain way for us to take pride in what we do.”
Holding the first of two wild-card spots, three points up on the Flames in the Western Conference playoff race, the Jets know what’s at stake here tonight.
Still, the focus is more about performance than it is on the opponents.
“These are the facts. The games are starting to wind down, so every one is huge,” Maurice said. “If we get back on track and we expect to, then it won’t matter where we are in the standings. You’ve got to be playing well. We haven’t been at our best these last three games.
"We need to get back to a consistent level.”
Michael Hutchinson will make his third straight start tonight, looking to rebound after allowing five goals on 32 shots on Saturday night against the Dallas Stars. Hutchinson is 14-6-2 on the year, with a goals-against average of 2.15 and a save percentage of .927 in 23 appearances.
“He’s been really good all year and we need a bounce back game from our team,” Maurice said.
According to coach, Ondrej Pavelec is likely to get the call tomorrow night in Vancouver.
Pavelec last played on Jan. 27 at Pittsburgh, making 25 saves in a 5-3 loss to the Penguins. The 27-year-old is 2-1-1 in his last four starts, allowing only 12 goals on a combined 150 shots (.920sv%).
“We play back-to-back nights and we’ve rotated guys [in those situations],” Maurice said. “If you look forward you might say Hutch would see the game against Chicago (Friday at MTS Centre) based on some recent history.
“It’s back into a bit of a rotation again.”
Meanwhile, the Flames will counter with Jonas Hiller. So for the second time in three games, it’s a battle between two right handed-catching goaltenders.
BACK IN COWTOWN
Jets forward Adam Lowry – son of the former Flame, Dave – is returning to the ‘Dome for the first time as a pro.
Lowry grew up in Calgary and played junior hockey with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, where the team made half-a-dozen trips west each year.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “Most of my memories growing up were about being here watching my dad when he played for the Flames. To get to play them tonight in a regular-season game, it’s going to be pretty special. My brother and I used to spend a lot of time down here. We used to go on the ice after (Flames) practices and spend some time in the dressing room. I have a lot of fond memories here.”
Lowry will have a strong contingent of family and friends cheering him on.
“I have a few coming,” he said. “My mom, my little sister, my girlfriend and a few of my buddies. I’ll have even more tomorrow night in Vancouver, too.”
In his first NHL season, Lowry has six goals and 15 points; he’s currently second among rookies in hits with 152 and his defensive game has been rock-solid from Day 1.
“He’s been really good for us this year,” Maurice said, praising the 21-year-old. “He’s a quick learner and big part of our team. He’ll kill penalties, he’ll take faceoffs in our end… We treat him like a regular NHLer even though he’s not done his first year yet.”
He leads like a veteran, too.
“We need to get back to what’s made us successful,” Lowry said. “It’s no secret that we haven’t played the game we’ve wanted to play since the All-Star Break. That’s about having a fast start, making it hard on the other team’s D. When we’re at our best, we’re moving our feet, creating those turnovers and chances off the cycle. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on here tonight.”
HARRISON BANGED UP
Defenceman Jay Harrison did not take part in today’s morning skate and is out day-to-day with an upper-body injury.