WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets will deploy a new set of defensive pairings tonight when they square off with the Central Division rival Dallas Stars at MTS Centre.
Toby Enstrom will be paired with Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot with Zach Bogosian, and Mark Stuart will line up alongside Jacob Trouba.
“We’ve been kicking it around for a while, even before guys got back,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We would like to see, from a minutes point of view, Toby and Dustin play together. We also think we’ve got a real strong shutdown pair. Benny (Chiarot) has come along and looks real solid out there with Zach. They’re two, big, physical guys that can play a strong defensive game. Zach had put some numbers coming back from injury, so it’s almost like a re-balancing of our defensive guys.
“Toby’s viewed as an offensive guy, but really, his strength is his ability move the puck and his ability to read. Dustin is a player you do need to read off of a lot because he’s in on the play a lot. Mark and Jake are both coming back from injuries, so that’s a safe pair.”
The Jets have won both meetings between these two teams this year, and are nine points up on the Stars heading into tonight’s action. The Stars will be looking to get back in the race and wrap up a three-game road trip above .500 before heading home to face the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
The Jets, meanwhile, have lost two straight, but continue to hold a wild card playoff spot, six points up on the cut line. Winnipeg has had a remarkable stretch of consistently this season, not having lost more than two in a row since October.
“Our effort has been a lot more consistent [this year],” Bogosian said. “When it’s that consistent all year, it’s easy to fall back on. When things aren’t going your way, you can battle your way through it. We’ve got to keep moving our feet, competing and knowing that we can’t get outworked out there. … Every game is huge at this point. I don’t think we’ve played our game in these past few games, so we want to get back on track.”
Michael Hutchinson will make his second straight start after making 27 saves the other night in Philadelphia. The 24-year-old is 15-5-2 on the year, along with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in 22 appearances.
“I really, really like the way he looks in the net,” Maurice said. “I know we look at numbers and results – and you have to do that. But how comfortable, how competitive a guy looks in the net, and the kind of saves he makes...
“He looks really good right now. We’ve got three sets of back-to-back games (left) and we’ll prepare for who’s going to play in those. But after that, there’s room to rest a guy and play a guy more. I felt Mike was right where he needed to be.”
Maurice and the Jets have generally been consistent in the Hutchinson-Ondrej Pavelec tandem rotating on a game-by-game basis. The Jets are one of the few teams in the National Hockey League without a clear-cut No. 1, but it’s a formula that’s worked well to this point, tradition be damned.
“I don't think you necessarily need to have a No. 1 guy – clearly, because we’ve had some decent success with two guys that are playing really well,” Maurice said. “There’s only one net, so you’ve got make those decisions. I’ll make them and it will be on me based on their performance. If he’s playing great, then it works for you. If not, then that’s a struggle. The numbers say we’ve got two guys playing very well for us.”
Maurice added that, while “it’s not a game plan,” the Jets could very well continue rotating goaltenders for the rest of the season. “It’s a possibility,” he said. The idea now is to give the goaltenders a chance to showcase themselves out of the rotation.
“If the numbers stay where they are and their numbers stay where they are in the rotation, then we’ll stay there. If we come out of that rotation and our numbers improve, we’ll stay there. If the numbers go down, we’ll go back to looking at it in a different way.”
On the other side, Kari Lehtonen is expected to get the start for Dallas.
HALISCHUK OUT “FOR A WHILE”
Matt Halischuk was placed on IR yesterday with a lower-body injury. According to Maurice, the injury is of the long-term variety and his status is “beyond” week-to-week.
As a result, TJ Galiardi, who was recalled yesterday from the St. John’s IceCaps, will slot in alongside Jim Slater (C) and Anthony Peluso (RW) on the fourth line.
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com