Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007)
/ Winnipeg Jets
AT THE MORNING SKATE
ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- Ben Chiarot returns to the Winnipeg Jets blue line tonight as the team drops the puck on a three-game road trip against the Minnesota Wild.
Chiarot hasn’t played since February 21 when he suffered a hand injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s been out 17 games, and now, he’s ready to help in the push for a playoff spot.
“I’m excited. I’ve been hungry for a while now to get back in and help the team in this push we have going for the playoffs,” Chiarot said. “I feel good. It feels strong. I’ve been able to get some good work in with the doctor and with our training staff. The legs feel good, the hand feels good. I’ll be ready to go.”
In his return to the line-up, Chiarot steps in for the injured Toby Enstrom alongside Tyler Myers. Chiarot doesn’t feel there will be much of an adjustment.
“When you’re playing with a guy like Tyler Myers, it’s pretty easy. He’s such a good player, you just read off him,” he said. “Kind of like when I came in with Buff. Just read off him and play your game.”
Coach Paul Maurice says Chiarot has been in on all the team meetings since his injury, so he knows the 23-year-old defenceman is as prepared as he can be.
“What we had seen when he came in, and played with Dustin Byfuglien. Kind of similar circumstances, he came in kind of new to the NHL and played big minutes and played very well. So he has that in his memory bank,” Maurice said of Chiarot. “I think Tyler is a pretty easy defenceman to read off and play. He moves the puck well and breaks the team out of the D-zone well.”
In a conversation he had with assistant coaches Charlie Huddy and Pascal Vincent after this morning’s skate, the Chiarot learned how much the game has changed since his injury in February.
“They said it’s a lot faster now than when I was hurt,” Chiarot said, adding the key for him will be keeping his feet moving. “This is what you play all year for. These pressure games. You have to love these types of situations where you know something is on the line. It will be exciting tonight.”
It certainly will be. The Jets begin the road trip outside of the playoff picture with 92 points, but with control over their own destiny. The Wild hold down the top wildcard spot with a record of 44-26-8, and are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to Detroit.
The Jets enter tonight’s game off a 5-4 win over Vancouver, and Jim Slater was a big factor in that win. He scored the game’s opening goal, and went 11 for 12 in the face off dot. Slater, who now has five goals on the season, says the Jets will need more of that type of play tonight to get chances on Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who will make his 37th consecutive start with the Wild tonight.
“Not many teams have figured him out. We’ve played some real close games with them,” Slater said. “It’s a game that we definitely need to have here tonight. We’ve been playing really well over this last little stretch. We’re one of those teams that needs to get in there and take pucks to the net.”
“That confidence, you see in a goaltender, I think his rebound control has been really good for him,” Maurice said. “Something that has been a major difference than in the past, maybe not quite as much movement in his game.
“(The Wild) were built to play in front of a guy like that. That real strong defensive structure. They don’t ask much of their goaltender. Just be square and control the rebounds.”
Ondrej Pavelec will get his fifth consecutive start for the Jets. The 27-year-old made 26 saves in the win over Vancouver. Despite not taking the morning skate, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little will play tonight. Unlike the defensive pairs that will see a shift with Chiarot returning, the rest of the line-up looks the same:
Tyler Myers-Ben Chiarot Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba Adam Pardy-Jay Harrison
The Jets are 2-1-1 in the season series against the Wild. Maurice says the fact there are only four regular season games left makes it easier to focus on the task at hand.
“You’re not 10-12 games, with who knows what can happen, so many different factors,” he said. “When those variables start to disappear and you just have to win the games you play, it makes it easier to focus.”
Puck drop is 7 pm central time from XCel Energy Center.
After leaving Saturday’s 5-4 win over Vancouver with five minutes left in the 3rd, Toby Enstrom didn’t take the morning skate in Minnesota. Maurice listed the defenceman as day-to-day on Sunday, and offered an update today.
“(He’s) where he was yesterday. We’ll monitor him day by day here, and as soon as he feels strong enough we’ll get him back on the ice in practice and see how he feels.”