WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets conclude their season series with the Colorado Avalanche tonight in a quick, one-game stop at home before heading back on the road.
The Avalanche (35-30-4) took the first three contests of the season before the Jets broke through with a 4-2 win at Pepsi Center back on Feb. 8.
“It’s always a good battle. It’s two teams that don’t like each other very much, and always see to have some tight matches,” said Mark Scheifele, who carries a six-game point streak into tonight. “Hopefully we can have another good one tonight.”
Colorado sits two points ahead of Minnesota for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, and will be without forward Gabriel Landeskog tonight, as he serves the first of a three-game suspension.
The Jets (27-35-5) aren’t where they would want to be standings-wise, but Drew Stafford says that doesn’t change how the team approaches tonight’s game.
“We’re here to win games as well. We’re doing our best to play our pride, play with character. We’re playing for something,” said Stafford. “We’re playing to try and get those points, and put a good product on the ice for our fans that come out and support us. At the same time, if we can hurt their chances of making the playoffs, why not? That’s why we’re playing. We play to win.”
The Jets got some good news after yesterday’s off day. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien will play tonight after leaving Thursday’s loss to Detroit in the third period with an upper-body injury.
Head coach Paul Maurice says Byfuglien’s impact is felt beyond the 25-plus minutes he plays each night.
“He comes to the rink with an energy. He might be a little crusty sometimes, after some games, but he brings an energy to the room every single day,” said Maurice. “He’s talking on the ice, he’s talking in the locker room, he gives the equipment guys a hard time. He brings an energy level that’s really consistent.”
That’s important, especially with young players coming into the line-up in recent weeks. Byfuglien has a lot to teach players like Scott Kosmachuk and JC Lipon in terms of what it takes to play in the NHL every day.
“You just give them little tips as they go along. For the most part they’re pretty respectful to us older guys,” said the 30-year-old Byfuglien. “It’s not easy on anybody, young or old. It wears and tears on you. You just keep your focus on the game. It’s something we talk about, and it’s something we teach as we go.”
Speaking of wear and tear, the March and April schedule has the Jets playing every other day until the end of the season. Including tonight, Winnipeg plays 15 games in 28 days.
“The biggest things that young players learn when they come in, is that there’s something every day. There’s a practice every day, or a meeting every day. The big one is every night, every game that you play, you have to get to a certain level,” said Maurice, adding Byfuglien’s presence breaks up the grind of an otherwise difficult situation. “He’s got a really big personality in that room, and his energy level is fantastic.”
But that all doesn’t take away from the fact that some lessons aren’t easy, or fun, to learn. Maurice doesn’t change his message though, nor does he tip toe around what needs to be said.
“I’m aware of what they’re going through. We don’t want to let the opportunity to fully go through it pass us,” he said. “We talk about the fact we like the energy level, there’s a lot of things that we like. There’s parts of our game that we don’t like and we need to fix that.
“We want to identify that five-minute stretch in every game, and not let it happen… We aren’t measuring ourselves against their line up. That part of the game we didn’t control, why, and what are the things that we need to fix to be able to control it.”
Their next chance to learn that lesson comes tonight against the Avalanche. It’s also an opportunity to turn things around at home, where the Jets have one win in their last nine.
“We’re right there. It’s just a body another foot over, just little things that come back to bite us,” said Byfuglien. “The good thing about (the schedule) is you don’t have time to let the mind go away from the game. You’re thinking about the game the whole time. It’s just a matter of being a professional and coming to work every day… You have to find a way to come and compete every night.”
Maurice gave an update on the wounded members of the Winnipeg Jets after Saturday’s pre-game skate.
Anthony Peluso had surgery on his shoulder and faces a 16-week recovery. Mark Stuart’s broken hand is coming along, and while the team and the veteran defenceman wait for the bone to fully heal, Stuart is skating and pushing himself to be game ready as soon as doctors clear him.
As for Joel Armia, Maurice says the forward is still five-to-seven days from getting back on the ice.
The news on Nikolaj Ehlers is also positive, as he recovers from a broken visor leaving cuts around his eye.
“Ehlers had his appointment on Thursday, and it went very well. The next block of time is a seven-day block of time to this coming Thursday, where he has very very light activity,” said Maurice. “He was on the ice this morning, in equipment, on his own. It’s all about heart rate. We’re not pushing him right now. If everything goes very well to next Thursday, we can increase the activity and the blood flow.”