AT THE MORNING SKATE
TORONTO, Ontario -- Dustin Byfuglien had red tape on his socks during today’s pre-game skate, but that was the only red he wore, as the 29-year-old donned a blue forward jersey, along blue socks this morning.
Coach Paul Maurice has moved Byfuglien from forward to defence and back again as the Winnipeg Jets (30-20-10) try to deal with injuries to the forward group.
“He’s really, really good at both,” Maurice said ahead of tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. “He’s been very good at point production from the blue line. He just gives us a different look. He’s a big power forward and he’s a big power defenceman at either spot. We’re a little deep on our blue line right now than up front with some injuries so he’s going to play up front for us.”
Based on the skate at Air Canada Centre, number 33 will play with Mark Scheifele and centre and Drew Stafford on the other wing.
“He’s going to protect the puck down low and try to create some havoc in front of the net, and bring that physical element,” Stafford said. “Hopefully between him, myself, and (Scheifele) we can get some puck possession down low and try to take something to the net.”
Coming from the Buffalo Sabres, a team in the Atlantic Division along with the Maple Leafs (23-31-5), Stafford has already seen the blue and white twice this season. He says Toronto’s speed is one of the main things the Jets will have to watch for.
“They have that skill, that speed, they can have that quick counter-attack on you if you’re not careful,” he said. “I think it’s a matter of taking away time and space from their top guys, and making it a tough game on them.”
Stafford added part of the Jets’ game plan tonight is getting back to playing with pace. Friday’s practice at MasterCard Centre was all about pace, and that word could carry more significance tonight, as the Leafs played last night in Carolina. Toronto lost that game 2-1, and is 1-8-1 in their last 10.
“There really isn’t any team you can take lightly in this league,” said Jacob Trouba. “We didn’t play the way we want to play (in Washington). We have to show that we can bounce back from those kinds of games, hit the reset button, and get back to it.”
“Toronto has scored as many goals as us, they’re over .500 at home, and their last five games have been tight,” Maurice added. “We’ve done a pretty good job this year of being ready to play in games that might be called trap games.”
The Jets have been good against the Atlantic Division overall. Coming into tonight, Winnipeg is 7-3-1 against those teams, and also brings a 15-10-6 road record into Air Canada Centre.
Maurice said Andrew Ladd (who didn't skate this morning) and Blake Wheeler will play tonight. Recent call-up Carl Klingberg also ran through break outs and drills this morning with Jim Slater and Anthony Peluso. Maurice wants the forward to bring energy into the line up.
“He had a really good training camp for us,” Maurice said. “He did all the things that we wanted him to do, and he continued that down in the American League. Unfortunately for Carl, and we’ve been lucky up front we haven’t had a lot of injuries up front so he hasn’t got his chance. He’ll come in and bring some energy to that line up.
The Jets continue to hold down that top wildcard spot in the Western conference, but things are tightening up. The Sharks, in the second wildcard spot, are only two points back, while the Minnesota Wild are just outside the playoff picture, but only three points back of Winnipeg.
Michael Hutchinson was the first goaltender off the ice for the Jets, and is the projected starter for tonight. Hutchinson is 17-7-3 this season, with a .920 save percentage and 2.30 goals against average. The Maple Leafs will reportedly counter with Jonathan Bernier.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com