CALGARY, Alberta -- Two teams with identical records face off tonight at Scotiabank Saddledome when the Winnipeg Jets complete their pre-Christmas schedule against the Calgary Flames.
At 15-16-2, the Jets sit seventh in the Central Division, while those 32 points have the Flames fifth in the Pacific, one point back of Vancouver for the division’s third spot.
Tonight’s game will also complete the eighth set of back-to-back games the Jets have faced since the season began in October. Head coach Paul Maurice says that won’t be an excuse tonight, as the Jets look to go into the Christmas break with a win, and a .500 record.
“I expect us to be good in here tonight,” said Maurice. “We’re on back-to-back, but we’ve had some rest. We should have good legs in here tonight.”
Calgary is coming off a 4-2 loss in Detroit on Sunday, but the Scotiabank Saddledome has been put the fire in Flames surge up the standings. They’ve won nine straight at home, with their last loss coming October 30 to Montreal.
The Jets played against a streaking road team last night in Edmonton. A 3-1 Oilers win over Winnipeg gave Edmonton their seventh straight win at Rexall Place, despite the fact the Jets fired 45 shots at Cam Talbot, and 86 total shot attempts.
“Probably other than the game in Minnesota on the road we wouldn’t have had that big of a discrepancy in what we gave up and what we got,” Maurice said. “But hey, their guy played well. So not enough to beat him, and not enough to win the game.”
Nikolaj Ehlers had six of those shots on goal. He says facing Calgary tonight is a clean slate, with the last meeting between the two teams (a 3-1 Jets win) coming back in early October.
“Teams develop over the course of the season. We did. They did. It’s going to be an exciting game tonight,” said Ehlers. “I think the guys are pretty pumped up for tonight. We know that we played well yesterday, and we have to go out and do the same today.”
The rookie forward has 12 points in 32 games this season, and Maurice liked what he saw from the speedy Dane, despite the loss in Edmonton.
“He’s got great vision, and great hands. It’s not just as a shooter, he passes the puck exceptionally well,” said Maurice. “All of it is driven by speed. All of it is driven by the space that he creates.
"We need to have some patience with a young man at 19, You’re not going to be able to skate like that every night. Maybe three of his last four games it looks like he’s back skating to how he was early in the year.”
Following the game in Edmonton, Maurice announced his plans to start Michael Hutchinson against the Flames. The 25-year-old netminder came on in relief of Connor Hellebuyck last night, and made seven saves in just less than half a game of work. Hutchinson’s last start came in a 2-0 loss to Chicago on Dec. 6.
“(Hutchinson) played well for us at the start of the year, he was great for us last year. He’s sat and watched for a while so he’s going to have the fire burning in here tonight,” said Maurice. “I want to see him handle that well and throw in a real big game.”
That type of big game will be needed against a Calgary team who looks to be getting Lance Bouma back in the line-up tonight. Bouma has missed 30 games with a broken fibula, and skated alongside Matt Stajan and David Jones at the Flames morning skate.
After playing last night, the Jets didn’t hold a formal morning skate, though a number of players took to the ice after the team meeting. Though they sit eight points back of a playoff spot, there are 49 games to go (including tonight) and the coach likes the way his team is playing.
“There’s no standings meeting every morning to see where we’re at. Everyone knows where we’re at,” said Maurice. “I think we’re in a lot better shape than the standings look. I like the way our game is being played. We’ve been in some tough games and had some tough defeats lately. But we’ve played right. We’ve played hard.”
Puck drop tonight is 8 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com