AT THE MORNING SKATE
WASHINGTON, DC -- Tonight will be game number 60 for the Winnipeg Jets, but it will be the first time they face off with the Washington Capitals since the season began.
The Jets and Capitals are not strangers though. The two teams played in the South East division before the realignment prior to the 2013-2014 campaign.
Though there may not be many mysteries between the two teams, tonight’s line up might be a bit of a guessing game. The loss of Mathieu Perreault for most, if not all, of the remaining regular season games has created a bit of a line-up shuffle.
Drew Stafford, who was also injured in Monday’s win over Edmonton, took morning skate at Verizon Center, and says he feels ready to return after working with Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik today.
“It was something in the 1st period, early on, and it started getting worse as the game went on,” Stafford said of his injury. “I got caught up in a couple bad positions, and in the 2nd period I fell kind of awkward. Then in the 3rd period I had a face off where it wasn’t feeling that great. After a few days of evaluation here, and I give credit to the training staff here, I’m feeling really good.”
Head Coach Paul Maurice confirmed Stafford’s status for tonight’s game only a few minutes later: “(Stafford) is back in.”
After skating as a forward at yesterday’s practice, Dustin Byfuglien was back on defence with Ben Chiarot at today’s skate. Regardless of where he finds himself in the line-up, Byfuglien knows he’ll have to keep an eye on Alexander Ovechkin, who leads the NHL in goals with 37.
“We can’t only worry about one guy,” Byfuglien said. “He’s a good player, but just like any other game. We have to stick to our game plan.”
Bryan Little comes into tonight second in the NHL in shooting percentage at 19.2 per cent. He says the responsibility of stopping Washington’s offense falls on the whole team.
“They’ve got some highly skilled weapons on that team. Obviously we want to stay disciplined and not give their power play too many opportunities,” Little said. “You have to know when you’re on the ice against (Ovechkin). He’s one of those guys that if you try to get under his skin, he elevates his game.”
“There are 29 teams in the league that have come up with a plan for Ovechkin, and he leads the league in scoring and goal scoring, so that’s how well that works,” Maurice said. “He’s getting the puck to the net, killing penalties, staying out of the box, those kinds of things. You just can’t give him that many reps with the puck.”
The Jets are 4-1-2 in their last seven games and currently hold down the top wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Washington (31-17-10) finds themselves in the same position in the East. Even though the players may find some familiarity on the ice from the South East division days, Maurice says there may be a bit of a “feeling out” process early on.
“Both teams are going to say the same things: ‘We have to come out and play our game,’ which becomes really critical when you have no idea, no history with the opponent,” he said. “But we know the names, we know the guys we have to try and find every shift.”
Ondrej Pavelec was the first goaltender off the ice today, and looks to be the projected starter tonight. The 27-year-old is 13-12-7 so far, with a 2.55 goals against average, along with a .910 save percentage.
Pavelec and the Jets will face a Capitals team that has won three of their last four games, all on the road. Despite the injuries in the Jets line-up, including the one to Perreault, Little says adversity is nothing new in the team’s dressing room.
“This team has faced a lot of adversity this year and a lot of injuries,” he said. “There were a lot of times that people thought we were missing key ingredients that we weren’t going to get it done, and we did. I think everyone elevates their game when we’re missing a guy like that.”
Puck drop tonight is at 6 pm central time at Verizon Center.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com