DALLAS, Texas -- The Winnipeg Jets (25-30-4) received some bad news ahead of tonight’s season series finale against the Dallas Stars.
Bryan Little is out for the rest of the regular season.
“(He) sustained a compression fracture of his T6 vertebrae. It is mid-to-lower back,” said Maurice. “It was a significant amount of force that caused the compression fracture.
“We’re going to miss him greatly.”
That force came from Anton Stralman, who delivered the hit on Little late in the second period of last Thursday’s game against Tampa Bay. The Jets centre man, who is tied for the team lead in goals, hasn’t played since.
While the initial news is bleak, Maurice said the word he’s received is Little will make a full recovery in about eight weeks.
But the NHL calendar stops for no team, and tonight the Jets focus is on the second half of a home-and-home set with the Stars. Winnipeg is 0-3-1 against Central Division leading Dallas (38-17-6) this season.
“You kind of see what happened last game and you’re able to hopefully make some adjustments to give yourself an opportunity to win tonight,” forward Blake Wheeler said of the home-and-home situation. “It’s fresh in everyone’s head what they did, what we did. Hopefully you can turn the page and use some of those things to get us back on track here.”
One area the Jets want to improve against Dallas is special teams. They feel they’ve give the Stars’ sixth-ranked power play too many opportunities, and it’s come back to haunt them.
“The games against these guys, that part of the game has been really noticeable. All we can do tonight is focus on what we have to do as a group tonight for the game. Not worry about what’s happened in the past,” said defenceman Tyler Myers. “We have to be good in all areas, but especially the special teams battle. It’s an important part of the game and we have to be ready for it.”
Dallas has scored five times on 15 power play opportunities in the four meetings between the two clubs this season. Maurice says the penalty kill units tonight may have a younger look than in games earlier this season.
“(The penalty kill is) the one system in the game that young players get very little time on. It’s almost exclusively run by veteran guys. There’s an experience quotient to it, because so much of it is based on experience,” said Maurice. “The only way to get it is to put them out there. So we’re going to run a younger unit, with the idea of developing the Lowrys and the Armias of the world into those kind of guys.”
Maurice noted Lowry’s experience in the face off circle is starting to pay off. The second-year centre man won 11 of the 20 draws he took in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Stars, giving him the top percentage on the team.
“Adam started the game against Dallas being underwater in the face off circle and found a way to battle through it and make an adjustment. That’s the biggest part for those centre men,” said Maurice. “It’s not what they necessarily start the game doing, it’s the experience that allows them to change what they’re doing against certain people. They’re starting to do that for us.”
Along with winning face offs and the special teams battle, Lowry knows the Jets have to keep an eye on the Stars’ top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Valeri Nichushkin.
The three combined for three goals and four points against the Jets on Tuesday.
“I think their line as a whole, they generate a lot of speed. They have a lot of power with (Seguin) and Benn especially, and whoever gets to go up with them on the wing,” said Lowry. “(Seguin) has got a tremendous shot and a tremendous amount of speed. It’s about knowing where he is on the ice when he’s out there.”
With Little missing his third straight game (along with the rest of the regular season), and defenceman Mark Stuart still out with a broken hand, Myers says this is the kind of adversity the Jets need to learn to play through.
“We have a tough road ahead of us in the standings, and we’ve hit a couple injuries here as of late,” he said. “Some adversity especially this last week like I’ve said, but all we can do is stick together and come to work tonight.”
Work begins when the puck drops at 7:30 pm CT.
With Little injured for the rest of the regular season, the Winnipeg Jets recalled Matt Halischuk from the Manitoba Moose. The 27-year-old has 18 points in 39 games with the Moose this season.
Maurice expects Halischuk to arrive in Dallas around 1 pm CT, but added the forward wouldn’t be in the line-up tonight.
In a corresponding move, the Jets placed Stuart on injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 13.