AT THE MORNING SKATE
TAMPA, Florida -- Welcome back Matt Halischuk and Paul Postma.
Both players are set to return to the Winnipeg Jets line-up tonight when the team finishes up a four-game road trip at Amalie Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning (42-20-7).
After taking this morning’s line rushes with Eric O’Dell and Chris Thorburn, Halischuk is excited to rejoin his teammates. He hasn’t played since January 29 in Philadelphia.
“It’s exciting. I’m fortunate to be able to get back in the line-up,” said Halischuk. “Just try to bring some energy, that attitude, try to work hard get on some pucks, and hopefully turn some pucks over and make some plays.”
The last time Postma was in the line-up was January 8 in Arizona. He looks forward to being paired with Mark Stuart on the blue line tonight.
“I'm pretty fresh out there. Maybe a little anger built up and aggression, hopefully take that out on the ice a bit tonight,” Postma said with a grin. “I'm just going to keep things simple and play to my strengths, advance pucks, and just play solid defensively. If I get that chance to jump up offensively I'll do that as well, maybe get a little power play time, we'll see what happens.
“I've watched (Stuart) play a long time, and have played with him quite a bit. He's a good player defensively and you usually know where he's going to be on the ice. He's a comfort to play with and I really enjoy playing with him.”
Coach Paul Maurice is hoping both players can bring energy into the Jets line-up, which will be without Tyler Myers tonight, due to an upper-body injury he suffered on Thursday.
“(Postma) is a right handed shot that can skate. His job is to take up some of those minutes that Tyler and Dustin take up on that right side. He can move the puck, and we need to see that,” Maurice said. “Halischuk, in a perfect world, he'd come in where he left off because he was just playing so very well for us with that energy. We feel in the last two or three days in practice, he's back to it. So he's 100 percent healed.”
Both players jump in the middle of a Western Conference playoff race that has the Jets on the outside looking in for the first time since November 25. Starting on that date, the Jets reeled off a streak that saw them collect points in each of their next eight games.
“It's never fun watching, that's the worst part about being hurt,” Halischuk said. “You always want to be out there trying to help out the guys. I think we've shown all year we can be resilient. Our fate is still in our hands here, so we're just looking to take it one game at a time.”
Here is how the line-ups look with Postma and Halischuk returning:
Andrew Ladd-Adam Lowry-Michael Frolik
Blake Wheeler-Mark Scheifele-Drew Stafford
Jiri Tlusty-Jim Slater-Lee Stempniak
Chris Thorburn-Eric O’Dell-Matt Halischuk
Toby Enstrom-Jacob Trouba
Mark Stuart-Paul Postma
Jay Harrison-Adam Pardy
Ondrej Pavelec was the first goaltender off the ice today’s morning skate, meaning he’s the projected starter tonight. Tonight would be his first start since February 19 in Washington. Maurice said he had planned to get Pavelec between the pipes in one of the two games in Florida.
Pavelec and the Jets will be facing a Lightning team tied for the Atlantic Division lead with 91 points. Part of their success has been their play at Amalie Arena. The Lightning’s 26 home wins tie them for tops in the NHL with Nashville. And although 25-year-old Steven Stamkos doesn’t lead Tampa Bay in points, Maurice knows the Jets have to be aware of him.
“He draws so much fire, which is a great thing for Tampa Bay because he's still able to put up those numbers being covered off,” said Maurice. “It's a really, really great thing for the players who don't play with him. They've got a lot of skill on all their lines. They've got players that can move the puck and really control the puck.”
Matt Carle also returns for the Lightning tonight. He’s been out since January 15 following abdominal surgery.
The puck drops on the final game of a four-game road trip for the Winnipeg Jets at 6 pm central time. Although there may be pressure on the Jets to get back into the playoff spot they held for the majority of the season, Maurice says it’s pressure they’ve felt all season long.
“Playing in the Central Division, the playoff race started in October,” he said. “How we play this game tonight will be far more of a function of who we put on the ice. Not in terms of effort but how we think we have to play to win this game, how tight we feel we need to play to win this game, and nothing to do with where we are in the standings.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com