AT THE MORNING SKATE
WINNIPEG – After obtaining five of a possible six points in the first three of a four-game home stand, the Winnipeg Jets are looking to finish it off a high note and make it seven of eight tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators are coming in on the second half of a back-to-back set, which began with a 3-2 shootout loss last night to the Minnesota Wild, snapping a five-game winning streak.
With Craig Anderson on the shelf with a hand injury, Andrew Hammond will get the nod in goal, according to Sens Head Coach Dave Cameron. Hammond, who began the 2014-15 campaign with the club’s top affiliate in Binghamton, has appeared in seven games over the past three weeks, posting a sparkling 1.40 goals-against average and .955 save percentage, singlehandedly propelling the Senators back into playoff contention on the strength of a 5-0-1 record.
“They played really well in that game last night and have for quite some time,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Their goaltending has been really good, but it gets to be a story that’s bigger than that, and you almost start to think foolishly that it’s only their goaltending and that’s not accurate.
“They’ve got a young team that didn’t make many changes and they’ve clawed themselves back into a legitimate fight for the playoffs with 20 games left. There’s a lot of belief in that room. Emotionally, they’ve got more energy. Now, fighting their way back in, even on back-to-back nights, they’re going to play with confidence and certainly some excitement.”
The Jets, meanwhile, have points in eight of their past 10 games and are currently atop the Western Conference Wild Card, one point up on the Wild and four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
Michael Hutchinson – who’s started six of the past seven games and is 5-0-3 in his past eight overall – will get the start in goal, while Lee Stempniak will make his Jets debut on a line with Adam Lowry and Blake Wheeler.
The full forward line combinations and defence pairings, based on today’s morning skate, are as follows:
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Michael Frolik
Jiri Tlusty - Mark Scheifele - Drew Stafford
Lee Stempniak - Adam Lowry - Blake Wheeler
Chris Thorburn - Jim Slater - Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom - Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Jay Harrison - Dustin Byfuglien
“We think (Stempniak) can make some plays,” Maurice said, adding that the balance across all four lines is as good or better as ever seen here in Winnipeg. “We’ve got some different elements on that line: Blake’s speed, and he can score; Adam’s been a real physical force and has been real strong down low. Then there’s a bit of a conduit between the two. Lee’s a responsible defensive player, but he can make some plays and has some confidence around the net.”
Stempniak has nine goals and 18 points in 53 games – all with the New York Rangers – this season.
“It’s the responsibility of the new guys to learn what we do as fast as possible,” Wheeler, who’s sporting a new, moderately tinted visor, said following the AM practice. “We play a certain style that’s given us success, and that’s often the hardest part about getting traded – to not only have to meet new guys and fit into the room, but you’ve got to learn a new way to play, too.
“They’ve done great. Our system is pretty simple, pretty basic. It really relies on your work ethic and we’ve got some new guys that really like to work.”
Speaking of the ‘new’ guys…
ALL ABOUT TYLER
The addition of Tyler Myers continues to pay dividends. In a big – we’re talking 6-foot-8 – way. The 25-year-old has been a force defensively, routinely playing upward of 20 to 25 minutes a night alongside Toby Enstrom on the back end.
In Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Kings, Myers had another strong outing, punctuating an already immaculate performance with a critical goal in the second period.
“He has been so good defensively. The points are great and he’s changed games with what he’s been able to do offensively,” Maurice said. “He’s had a real impact there, and in the way we can move people around on our back end in terms of matchups because of the way he and Toby have played together.”
Fellow defenceman Mark Stuart agrees, drawing a comparison to Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, who stands at a similar height.
“Players are so good now and forwards are so quick, it’s important as a defenceman to have a good stick and he’s one of the best I’ve seen with that,” Stuart said. “He’s a big body that can move. You know when they’re on the ice, that the puck is going to be moving and you’re going to be seeing the offensive side of our back end.”
Myers has two goals and six points in only eight games as a Jet.
“One thing I’ve noticed in the time I’ve been here, especially of late, is everyone is on the same page, systematically,” he said. “When you have everyone knowing what each other is doing, it makes it that much easier to do your job. It brings a certain level of trust on the ice and it’s a fun way to play.”
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com