WINNIPEG - Bryan Little says he is ready to play and could be back in the lineup as soon as tomorrow when the Winnipeg Jets entertain the New Jersey Devils in the second of a three-game home stand.
Little has missed 23 of the Jets' 24 games this season, leaving the Oct. 13 home opener just four shifts in after getting tangled up with Carolina Hurricanes winger Bryan Bickell, suffering a lower-body injury that has kept him out ever since.
"(I feel) good," the veteran said. "To actually get in there, play on a line and get some bumping and a real practice under my belt… If it was up to me, yes (he would play tomorrow). That was my plan today, to see if everything went well, would I feel comfortable playing.
"Everything went well today, so…"
Little centered a line with Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford at Monday's practice, and according to Head Coach Paul Maurice, will play if he comes back to the rink tomorrow feeling as good as he did leaving it following the skate.
Video: PRACTICE | Bryan Little
"You can't really simulate a game in practice. You can do some battle drills and stuff like that, but I can't really test it much more without getting back into a game and seeing how it goes," he said. "As of now I haven't had any hiccups in the past couple weeks, so there's not much more I can do but to get in a game."
He admits it was a frustrating few weeks - difficult, even, to stay positive - with this, after having missed the final 25 games last year with a neck injury, but he's happy to be back now at a time when the team could use a lot of what the dependable two-way centre can offer.
"It changes a lot of what you do and you run your bench, and what your wingers can get accomplished," Maurice said of Little and Mathieu Perreault's extended absences. "I could go on and on about it, but (Little) has played two-and-a-half minutes in the last seven, eight months, so in his first game he might not be the first star. It's going to take him a while to get into the rhythm of the game."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Still, his value cannot be understated.
The Jets are NHL's worst faceoff team with a 44.4 percent success rate on the dot. (The league-leading Anaheim Ducks, meanwhile, are more than 12 percentage points higher at 56.9.) Little, mind you, is a career 48.6 and has been over 50 in two of the past four years. Beyond that, he matches up against the other teams' top offensive players, and will be great add to both the power play and penalty kill, where the Jets currently rank in the Bottom 10.
Most of all, the 10-12-2 Jets have only seven goals in their past five games are getting a 20-25 goal, 60-plus point forward back in the fold.
"I've been lucky for most of my career," Little said. "I've avoided some major injuries, and have only had some bumps and bruises, so to have your two worst ones back-to-back like that, it was extremely frustrating; especially when you work hard all summer, to have that happen a couple shifts into your first game, it was tough to stay positive for a while, but I tried to work hard to get back as fast as I could."
Perreault, who did not accompany the Jets on their recent five-game road swing, was back on the ice today in a yellow non-contact jersey, and is only a few days away from returning as well.
Perreault suffered an upper-body injury on Nov. 3 and skated for the first time yesterday after weeks of watching on the sidelines.
"There wasn't a setback in the injury, we just had a plateau where he didn't feel any better and it just stayed there for an awfully long time," Maurice said. "He'll go from where he is today, and we'll give him a chance to practice a little more leading into the weekend, into a full contact jersey and after that, it'll be a couple days [before he plays]."
Winnipeg lost Nic Petan to a lower-body injury ("a mere flesh wound," in the words of the coach) in Sunday's 3-0 win over the Predators, and while his day-to-day status remains unchanged, the expectation is that the 21-year-old will be out for close to a week.
Petan fell awkwardly late in the third period and may have gotten cut by a skate. He has one goal and seven points in 13 games this season.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com