WINNIPEG - A three-game home stand comes to an end on Saturday when the Winnipeg Jets face off with the New Jersey Devils in the first afternoon puck drop of the season at Bell MTS Place.
Both teams come in with identical 11-4-3 records, and worked some overtime in their last outings. The Devils dropped a 1-0 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, while the Jets rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in a shootout that same night.
"I think it's going to be close to the fastest game we'll play all year," said head coach Paul Maurice of the Devils. "(They're) the fastest team we've seen."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, who teamed up to score the tying goal against the Flyers with 48.4 seconds left in regulation and logged heavy minutes in the process, didn't take part in the team's practice on Friday. Defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom also weren't on the ice, but Maurice says all four will play against New Jersey.
Connor Hellebuyck (10-1-2, 0.930 save percentage) will get the start in goal, and here is how the line-up is expected to look in front of him.
The Devils have points in six of their eight games this month, with Winnipeg being the third stop on a four-game road trip.
"We look at what New Jersey does well, they have a ton of speed up front. They have a lot of guys that can skate, and a lot of skill. They've really transformed their team in the last couple years," said Lowry. "They've been building, and you add in (Nico) Hischier, a healthy (Taylor) Hall, they've got (Travis) Zajac back, Brian Boyle back, they've had guys take the next step forward.
"We're expecting a fast game."
Video: PRACTICE | Andrew Copp
It was Lowry's line, with Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev, that Maurice credited with turning the momentum on Thursday against Philadelphia. After the first period, Maurice put Lowry's line against the Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Claude Giroux line in an attempt to free up Scheifele, Wheeler, and Kyle Connor.
The move worked, and Copp says the key to playing against a line that had combined for 23 goals and 60 points going into Thursday's contest was simplicity.
"That's a big time line. I think they're second or third in production in the league in terms of top lines. We knew they were really dangerous," said Copp. "We just wanted to really simple and make them play in their own end, and not really feed their transition game at all, and kind of make them disinterested in the game, honestly.
"We were really happy with our game last night, and we'll try to build that momentum into (Saturday)."
Video: PRACTICE | Adam Lowry
But while their game may be simple, Maurice says in order to play that game effectively, the work ethic has to be there.
"They're working their butts off, and they're becoming very difficult to play against," said Maurice. "I think Adam Lowry since he's been back from injury has a little bite to his game, physicality. Brandon looks faster, if that's possible, than he was last year. He's a bit more comfortable in his routes and his roles. Andrew, in his time from playing centre, has gone to the wing and he understands the game really well.
"Boil it down to the simplest thing, they're working really hard. You usually have a good game if you do that."
After Friday's efficient 25-minute skate had wrapped up, the players had just over 24 hours to get set for the 2 pm CT face-off.
Copp has played in a few of those in his 160 career NHL games, and says the game day preparation has already begun.
"You have to plan it out a little bit, and eat a bit of a bigger dinner tonight, and a huge breakfast tomorrow," said Copp. "There's no pre-game skate. You have to be mentally ready to go right away. It's going to be important to get off to a fast start for sure."
Video: PRACTICE | Brandon Tanev