WINNIPEG -- After a road trip that saw the Winnipeg Jets accumulate a 2-2-1 record, the team is back inside the friendly confines of MTS Centre for the nine of their next ten games.
The first game of that stretch is Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres. It’s the first time Winnipeg has faced Buffalo since last February’s trade between the two clubs, that saw Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, and Brendan Lemieux come to the Jets, while Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and prospect Jason Kasdorf went to Buffalo.
“It’s always weird I’m sure for guys that play former teams,” said Stafford. “But for us, for the most part we’re focused on winning. We need the points. It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against… Beyond the obvious reasons, we’re more focused on having a good game.”
“It was a big deal numbers wise,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “There are going to be five players in the line-up (Sunday) playing against their former teammates. So there will be extra energy.”
Speaking of energy, the Jets are 11-5-1 at MTS Centre this season. Myers, who has 10 points in his last 11 games, says the team feeds off the atmosphere in the building.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that we love playing in front of these fans. To play in this building, you can tell it gives us a lot of energy,” said Myers. “To be playing at home as much as we are in this next stretch here until the All-Star break it’s an opportunity for us to take advantage of.”
Sunday’s game against the Sabres is the first chance to take advantage of that opportunity. Buffalo suffered its sixth straight loss in Chicago Friday night, losing by a 3-1 decision.
“They played well against Chicago but they’re not winning, so that keeps them unhappy,” said Maurice. “We’ve got quite a task ahead of us and we’ll be real focused on that.”
That task will be continuing to climb up the Western Conference and Central Division standings. Going into action Saturday night, the Jets were four points back of Nashville for the final wildcard spot. Winnipeg can’t get all the points back at once, so a familiar cliché is prevalent at this time, according to Maurice.
“One game at a time has great value to us now. We’re at home, we feel good and confident about our game,” he said. “I like the structure of what we’re doing, the lines we’re running, the pairs that we have. So excited about our game.”
Nashville was one of the teams the Jets beat on the season-long five-game road trip that wrapped up in Dallas Thursday night.
“We came out .500… I think we could have been even better on the road trip as well,” Myers said. “We know that in the room, but overall it was a pretty good effort in the five games. The fact we’re coming home now, it’s going to give us a little bit of an extra jump.”
That extra jump, along with skating against some familiar faces, will be important in the first game back from a trip of that length, according to Maurice.
“You worry about the game coming back off the extended road trips, the energy level. I think it will be built into this game. I think the puck drops, and there won’t be anything overly unusual about it five minutes into the game. I think it settles right into a hockey game.”
Puck drop is 2 pm CT.
After suffering a lower-body injury late in the game against Dallas, Mark Scheifele did not take part in Saturday’s practice. Maurice said Scheifele will be a game-time decision on Sunday, but has a “fairly high expectation” Alexander Burmistrov (who also didn’t practice) will play against Buffalo.
As for Ondrej Pavelec, Maurice says the goaltender is right on schedule.
“We’re happy with where he’s at,” said Maurice. “But I don’t know when he gets to that next level, where he can get into the butterfly, and get across, I don’t know how long he stays in that before he’s really strong in it.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com