WINNIPEG -- Two teams with identical records will face off Sunday afternoon at MTS Centre, when the 4-1-0 Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues clash in a Central Division battle.
It will be game number two of a six-game home stand for the Jets, who practiced Saturday following a 3-1 win over Calgary Friday night.
“We’re starting to get our offensive game where we want it. Creating as much havoc at the net as we can. Moving a lot in the offensive zone, controlling the puck, then just getting a high volume of shots to the net,” said forward Blake Wheeler, who leads the team with seven points in five games. “From there, it makes us tough to defend us. We have guys that can move well, we have guys that are big and strong on the puck. We’re making the defencemen turn and look for loose pucks at the net. It makes us hard to defend.”
Despite being five games into their 82-game schedule, this will be the first time the Jets face an opponent from their division. Five teams from the Central Division made the post-season in 2014-2015, more than any of the other three.
“It’s not even just the quality of the team, it’s the style of the team in our side… There’s a physical cost to playing in this division as well,” said Head Coach Paul Maurice. “The people in hockey, that get out of one of these games and they’re such a grind, got to look at that division and say ‘that’s tough.’ It’s a good place to play, it’s a good place to coach in, because there aren’t any nights that you get to be half good and win. It’s a good training ground for young players.”
A young player that has developed in the Central is Mark Scheifele. His line with Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers has combined for 10 points, and four of the Jets’ 18 goals so far this season. Ehlers sits in the top 15 in the NHL with 18 shots on goal.
“He’s so fast, and it looks so effortless for him,” said Scheifele of his line mate. “He’s definitely a special player to play with. It’s huge seeing guy that young get so many chances. All you want from him is to continue to work and to continue to get better every day. I know he’s a guy that does want to get better every day.”
Last season the Jets were 2-2-1 against the Blues. Scheifele says he expects a lot of the same from St. Louis, who is coming off a 4-3 win in Vancouver.
“We know they’re going to be a good team. We know they have a lot of skill, and a hard defensive game,” said Scheifele. “It’s going to be a tough task for us. I think we’ll be ready for it. We just have to stay with our game and continue to learn as a team.”
As far as the line-up goes, the lines and defensive pairings looked similar to late in the game against Calgary.
Ladd – Little – Wheeler
Perreault – Scheifele – Ehlers
Burmistrov – Lowry – Stafford
Thorburn – Copp – Petan
Enstrom – Byfuglien
Pardy – Myers
Stuart – Trouba
After missing the last two games with an injury, defenceman Ben Chiarot skated with the team on Saturday. He was paired with Paul Postma during line rushes, but Maurice says he doesn’t the 24-year-old to be in the line-up tomorrow.
As for who will play between the pipes, Maurice was coy on Saturday. Simply saying “We’re going to put one in,” with a laugh, and adding “We’ll leave him in there as long as possible.”
Regardless of who is in net, the Jets will be focused on playing the style of game that gave them success against the Blues late last season. The Jets took the last two meetings between the two teams on March 19 (2-1 in a shootout) and April 7 (1-0 in St. Louis).
“We’ve played this way for a year plus now. The more familiarity you have with one another, and the more familiarity you have with the game you’re trying to play, the better you’re going to play,” Wheeler said. “I think with the style that we play, I think we’re able to dictate the tempo a little bit when we’re playing well. That’s helped us get some games in our favour tempo wise.”
Puck drops between the Jets and Blues at 2 pm CT Sunday afternoon.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com