GLENDALE, Arizona – Welcome back, 44!
Assembling an 11-4-4 record (5-0-3 in their past eight games) away from MTS Centre this season, indeed, the road has been kind to the Winnipeg Jets.
Today under the hot desert sun, the Jets got another piece of good news.
Very good news.
Zach Bogosian, who’s missed the past 14 games with a lower-body injury, will make his return to the lineup as the Jets open a three-game road trip against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena.
The 24-year-old will be paired with veteran Jay Harrison on the back end. As a result, the Jets have assigned Julien Brouillette to AHL's St. John’s IceCaps.
“I feel good. The legs feel good, the timing’s coming back, obviously, after a few team practices, so I’m looking forward to getting back,” Bogosian said. “Any time you sit there and watch in the press box, it’s no fun, but you try to learn from it and pick up a few things you might not see at ice level.
“The first few days after being injured, you sit around, it sucks and you want to get back as fast as possible, but you can’t rush anything.”
Bogosian last played on Dec. 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, but was forced from the game after blocking a shot.
“We’re excited to get one back,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Zach’s a veteran guy; he has a lot of NHL games under his belt. We want to see him getting in the battle right away and try to see if we can develop a little bit of communication and chemistry. They (Bogosian and Harrison) play complementary games. They both skate well, close the gap well, get up on the rush if they need to and they can both shoot the puck.
“Before we change a bunch of things to get back to what we had in the past, and because our injured players are probably going to come back into the lineup at different times, we’re going to have to try some different combinations.
“Even in one game, we’re looking for a positive feel.”
Unfortunately for Jets, it wasn’t all good news on this day. The prognosis on injured defenceman Grant Clitsome (back) is in.
The veteran had surgery earlier this morning in Los Angeles and could be gone for the rest of the regular season.
“That is possible,” Maurice admitted. “I don’t know that I’ll say ‘probable’ yet, but this is going to be a long-term rehab.
“[The surgery] went well, so it’s a positive outcome on that front, but he’s out indefinitely. We’re talking months, not weeks. He’s got a back issue that he dealt with last year. The good news on this is those things when you get in there, they can be bad, too, but it was actually positive news on a very difficult situation, so we’re quite hopeful that he’s going to return and be an NHL player.”
As for tonight’s matchup, the Jets come in on the heels of a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday night, while the 15-20-4 Coyotes – sixth in the Pacific Division with 34 points – are also coming off a defeat, 6-0 at the hands of the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.
The ‘Yotes may have had a tough year to this point, but their special teams have not. Arizona boasts one of the league’s best power-plays (seventh), operating at a 21.1-percent clip.
The Coyotes will be without centre Martin Hanzal and defenceman Zbynek Michalek, both of whom are day-to-day with upper-body injuries.
Mike Smith will get the start in goal. The 32-year-old is 6-16-2, along with a 3.57 goals-against average and .882 save percentage this season.
Smith surrendered five goals to the Jets in a 6-2 opening-night loss right here at Gila River Arena on Oct. 9, 2014.
The Jets will counter with Ondrej Pavelec, who has a 10-9-5 record, along with a 2.40 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 26 appearances this season.
“They’re capable of big, emotional swings in their game,” Maurice said. “They’re capable of beating the league’s best. They’re going to come out hard here – really hard, to make amends for their last game. We have something to make amends for as well, but they’re going to come out real hard.
“I’m expecting them to be very difficult to deal with, especially early in the game. It’s on us to handle it and then have a real strong pushback.”
The Jets are currently in a Western Conference wild card playoff spot, two points up on the Calgary Flames. As the season reaches its midway point tonight, the club is focused on building on already solid foundation of work ethic and dogged determination.
“Overall, the product that we’ve put on the ice has been positive,” Jets winger Blake Wheeler said of the season’s first half. “We work hard. That’s our identity. The one thing that won’t change is our work ethic every night. That’s what we’re more concerned with, is how we’re playing every night and we’ve been pleased with that this year.
“I think we’re pleased, but we’re going to push for more.”
-- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com