AT THE MORNING SKATE
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Winnipeg Jets close out their season series with the Edmonton Oilers tonight at Rexall Place. Even though Edmonton is mathematically eliminated, Mark Stuart says there is no reason to take them lightly.
“It's going to be a challenge, it's going to be a battle, they all are. But it's fun,” Stuart said. “We're looking for another big challenge for our team, but we're looking for another 60-minute effort. We've had a few, it just makes that much bigger of a difference.”
Those “few” 60-minute efforts Stuart refers to have resulted in four straight wins for the Jets leading into tonight’s contest. Both games against the Oilers this season have gone past the 60-minute mark, the Jets winning both. So whether the team they’re facing is in the playoffs or not, Stuart says the approach doesn’t change.
“You approach the game that it's a must win. It's a tough to think that way all the time, but that's the way it is, that's the position we're in this time of year,” said Stuart, who scored the game winner in Winnipeg’s 3-0 win over Washington. “We have to approach every game that way, we're able to string together a few good ones, but that has to continue if we want to see ourselves in the post season.”
In the post season is where the Jets currently sit with 10 games to go in the regular season. Four points separate them from the Los Angeles Kings, who have one game in hand. That spread has fluctuated almost daily, but Blake Wheeler says it’s not something the team invests too much emotion in.
“I think we've dealt with it well here recently. It's just focusing on spending all of our energy we have in the game tonight,” Wheeler said. “It's given us success in the past. Playing hard, limiting their chances, trying to make them work for every chance they get. That's given us an opportunity to win every night. So sticking to that game plan, that's what it's all about.”
Wheeler’s line with Mark Scheifele and Drew Stafford come into tonight’s match up with a combined 16 points during the four-game win streak. While Wheeler and Scheifele had played on a line together previously, he says the addition of Stafford has been huge.
“He's so strong on the puck behind the net in the offensive zone,” Wheeler said of Stafford. “I think he does a really good job of extending a lot of plays for us, he creates a lot for us down low. He's really pushed us to another level.”
Another level could also describe the play of Oilers’ forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle of late. Each player has registered 14 points in their last seven games. As a team, the Oilers are coming off a 5-4 overtime win against Philadelphia. Though the team’s 20-39-13 record has them missing the playoffs, Coach Paul Maurice says he doesn’t think the Oilers are carrying the burden of the slow start to the season with them any longer.
“Those questions have already been answered and they'll be answered again when the season is over. Right now here tonight, they won a big game, an overtime win, which makes you feel good about yourself,” Maurice said. “They played really hard against us, they played really well against us in Winnipeg. Tight gap, hard checking game, they have lots of skill up front, a real good power play. This is going to be a real hard fought game here tonight.”
Wheeler, who has two assists in his two games against Edmonton this season, knows the Oilers will bring a lot of firepower into tonight’s game.
“They have a lot of guys that like to score goals and like to get points. Any time you're playing a team that has offence on their mind, it's a delicate balance,” he said. “That's not who we are, that's not our game. We have to try and make them play our game, impose our will, like 'we've done recently, and go from there.”
PAVELEC NHL’S FIRST STAR OF THE WEEK
Earlier this morning, Ondrej Pavelec was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week. His 3-0-0 record, combined with a .970 save percentage and 0.97 goals against average put him ahead of Ottawa’s Kyle Turris and Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop.
Coach Maurice says the team is happy for Pavelec, who is projected to get his fifth straight start tonight.
“We got into a rotation in the middle of the schedule, and Hutchinson got a run when he got hot. Pavelec worked hard every day. Stayed ready. We didn't have to maintain him or keep his spirits up,” Maurice said. “I'm sure he would have much preferred to be in the net….He stayed ready, stayed focused, and clearly he stayed sharp.”
ON THE MEND
Near the end of today’s morning skate, Ben Chiarot, Mathieu Perreault, Dustin Byfuglien, and Bryan Little all took to the ice in orange, non-contact jerseys.
Maurice says at this point he doesn’t expect Little or Byfuglien in the line up tomorrow night in Vancouver, but both are being constantly monitored.
“Every day they get closer. Both of these are slow healing, not the players, but the injuries themselves make it more difficult,” Maurice said. “We want to make sure when they come back in the line up they don't go back out. We also understand we're in a real tough race. We're not resting them more than we have to.
They're back skating and we get them skating with the group and it's a lot easier for us to tailor what they're doing. We have Dr. Slaunwhite here, with the off ice. Our medical guys, we have a doctor with us. So we can really monitor where they're at and also push them as much as we can, so when they come back, their legs are good.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com