SUNRISE, Florida -- The Winnipeg Jets will be without Bryan Little tonight when they face the Florida Panthers to wrap up their four-game road trip.
Head coach Paul Maurice says Little is listed as day-to-day following the hit he took from Anton Stralman in Thursday’s 6-5 shoot out loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Mathieu Perreault steps in to the void left by Little, with Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers on the wings.
“That stems directly from his last stint at centre in January when we lost all our centre men there for a bit,” said Maurice. “He came in and played really well there, so he’ll get that spot. We have a couple of other places that we can move our centre ice around if we need to.”
Wheeler, who came to Little’s defence seconds after the hit, says the team will miss Little for more than just the 17 goals and 42 points he’s tallied this season.
“You really can’t fill that in with one or two guys. Everyone is going to have to step up a bit,” said Wheeler. “He plays in every situation. He’s a key piece to what we do, in any facet of the game. We’re going to need some different guys to step up and try to minimize that loss.”
The challenge the Jets (25-28-4) face tonight goes beyond the fact the Panthers (33-18-7) sit atop the Atlantic Division standings. Bringing the emotion and level of play that produced four goals in the third period against Tampa Bay is a lesson the Jets have been learning all season.
“We’ve had spurts of playing really good hockey. We’re a pretty good team when we do that. The nights that we don’t do that, we’re not very good,” said Wheeler. “It’s one or the other. That’s been our biggest challenge is trying to find that consistency and bringing that every night.”
Andrew Ladd scored two of those four third-period goals, the second being his 200th career goal. He says he learned a lot about the Panthers in the two match ups last season, with each team winning in their own building.
“I remember the way they played and the way they checked, and they played a really fast game,” said Ladd. “They’ve obviously had a really good year this year, and we’re going to have to be ready like any other game to be ready off the hop and skating like we were last game.”
Leading the Panthers offensively is 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr. His 41 points include 18 goals, and the next one Jagr scores will tie him with Brett Hull for third on the NHL’s all-time list, at 741.
“You don’t play as long as he has at the level he has without being a dominant player,” said Ladd, adding Jagr’s puck possession is something that stands out. “He wins all those battles and makes all those 10 foot plays, where you think you have him, he’ll slide it through your stick and the puck is going the other way.”
The Jets are 1-1-1 on the current four-game road trip, and a win to finish it off would improve this month’s road record, which sits at 3-1-1.
“Getting to the level that we need to play at to have success, to compete, sometimes is a learning process. It’s not an easy thing to do,” said Maurice. “We’re going through that process right now. So that’s our challenge. Night after night in the NHL, our team has to come out and compete at an exceptionally high level. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“It’s a lesson. We have to make it ours. We have to make that who we are. We have a great opportunity to do it again tonight.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com