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Kulikov sheds non-contact jersey as return to Jets line-up gets closer

"It's good to put on a red jersey and practice with the team." -Kulikov

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

TORONTO - One day after getting Andrew Copp back in the line-up, the Winnipeg Jets look to be on the verge of getting another player back from injury.

Defenceman Dmitry Kulikov took part in Tuesday's 25-minute skate in the regular defenceman's red jersey, instead of the gold non-contact sweater he had been wearing for the past few days.

"It felt like I was in good shape in the last few days, even when I was skating in yellow," said Kulikov. "I felt good out there. It's good to put on a red jersey and practice with the team."

The 29-year-old was injured back on November 29 in Anaheim against the Ducks. At that point, Kulikov had four points in 25 games and was averaging 19:42 of ice time, third on the Jets roster behind Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey.

"I thought I was playing well. I had good chemistry going with Neal there. Anytime you get injured it's unfortunate, but for me I felt it was a bad timing," said Kulikov, who said the injury occurred when he was on the receiving end of a check he wasn't expecting.

"I was going away from one forechecker and the other guy hit me," he said. "It just happened that I hit the boards awkwardly."

Video: PRACTICE| Dmitry Kulikov

The Jets close out their current four-game road trip with a back-to-back set against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins.

That scenario of two games in two days could factor into head coach Paul Maurice's decision in terms of Kulikov's return.

"He's possibly an option for tomorrow. We'll get him through his day here today and see where he's at," said Maurice. "I'm not sure if I'm putting him into a back-to-back off that injury. But he may be a player for us in one of the next two."

Since Kulikov has been out, his former defensive partner, Pionk, has been paired primarily with Luca Sbisa.

Maurice liked what he saw from that duo but hasn't committed to putting them back together just yet.

"I liked that chemistry. Some of it will be the health of the other defencemen too. It might take a shift, it might take a period, it might not happen," said Maurice. "We just have to get him out there, get him into a game, and see how he's doing. That's a significant time that he's missed. If he's feeling right, there was some good chemistry there I thought."

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

Two games into the road trip, the Jets have three of a possible four points with two of those coming in the 3-2 victory over Montreal on Monday.

Over the course of this back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday against the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, Maurice expects two completely different styles of play.

"Across the NHL, 75 per cent of the games are the same. All the rules that apply - have to be strong on the walls, have to get pucks in, have to get pucks out. That's the standard interview of every player in between periods," Maurice said.

"The styles of teams between a team like Carolina to a team like Boston, even Vegas and Washington from East to West, St. Louis' game is so much different than Toronto's game in a lot of ways. There is variation. What your game is going to look like then, does change. It's not all about how you play.

"We have things we're working on that we want to get better at. We've played these guys recently and gave up an awful lot of goals. So we have to be better there."

In the first meeting of the season between the two teams, the Jets and Maple Leafs went back and forth offensively with Toronto coming out on top 6-3.

Video: PRACTICE | Patrik Laine

The Jets had a season-high 48 shots in that game with Patrik Laine firing 13 of them.

"Tomorrow there is a new opportunity for us," said Laine. "It's always fun to play here. It's always a good challenge playing against a good team. It'll be a fun one."

Speaking of firing shots, Mark Scheifele was one of four players to miss practice in Toronto on Tuesday along with Sbisa, Blake Wheeler, and Josh Morrissey.

Scheifele was hit with a Laine one-timer in the third period against the Canadiens, but stayed in the game despite needing some time to get back to his feet.

The Jets' centre is expected to play against the Maple Leafs - as are the other three - with Connor Hellebuyck getting the start in goal.

As for Laine, he's left wondering what could have happened with that one-timer.

"That was going bar down and he blocked it…. He probably wanted that goal for himself," Laine said laughing.

"He made a great screen in front of the net. It's unfortunate that it hit him. He'll be fine. He's a tough guy and can take it. Thankfully I don't have a heavy shot. It probably didn't hit him that well."

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