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Little returns to practice as Jets prepare for Blues

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEGBryan Little was back on the ice today participating in a full team practice for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury on Mar. 4 against the Ottawa Senators.

The 27-year-old top line centre is still a few days away, but he insists that after a brisk, 35-minute skate at MTS Centre, his return to the lineup is not far off.

“I felt pretty good today,” Little said after tossing his posh, brightly coloured non-contact sweater in the laundry bin a few feet away. “As far as skating and shooting and stuff goes, it felt good to be in the mix at practice today. The biggest thing now is getting in some contact. It’s hard to test that unless you’re in a game, but that’s where we are right now – day-to-day.

“The good thing is that it’s gotten better every day, but it’s gotten better slower than I thought,” Little said. “I thought when it first happened that there was a good chance I’d be able to play on the road trip, but it’s obviously taken about a week longer. … We’ll see how it is tomorrow.”

Little admits the injury will “still be a bit sore” when he eventually does return, but the key now is mitigating that as best as possible with a proper recovery. He’s hoping to return Saturday against
the Washington Capitals, but nothing is set in stone.

“He’s been skating for a while, so that’s a positive,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “He’ll have to get through a practice of bumping, pushing back and feeling strong – and if he does that, we’ll wait until the next day to see how he comes in and make a decision.”

Toby Enstrom, Andrew Ladd, Black Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Drew Stafford, Chris Thorburn and Tyler Myers did not participate in today’s practice (“Some of it’s minutes, some of it’s maintenance and some if it’s minor things that we’re trying to get ahead on,” Maurice said), but all are expected to play tomorrow night against the St. Louis Blues – the two teams’ third meeting in three weeks, dating back to Feb. 26’s 2-1 overtime loss. The Jets are 0-2-1 against the Blues this season and are coming off a heartbreaking 5-4 regulation loss to them last week Scottrade Center.

The Jets are 9-2-2 in their past 13 home games and are hoping to improve on that tomorrow (7:00pm CT, TSN3).

“We look forward to the games against them. They’ve been great hockey games,” Maurice said of the heated Central Division rivalry. “There’s going to be a team on your list that you’re going to have a hard time beating for whatever reason. Usually it’s because your styles don’t match up. But I’ve liked the games against St. Louis – all of them. We’ve played them real hard and they seem to be close.”

In their previous meeting – after surrendering three goals in the second period – the Jets rallied back from a 4-1 deficit, only to lose 5-4 on a fluky goal with 63 seconds to play.

The Blues currently sit atop the division standings with a 45-20-5 record for 95 points.

“When you’ve got good teams playing each other, every opportunity counts,” Jets defenceman Adam Pardy said. “We liked our fight; we liked our intensity. The fact that we battled back against a real good team does a lot for our confidence.

“All bets are off (Thursday). It’s about getting two points and we know it’s going to be battle to the end.”

Dustin Byfuglien, who was a game-time decision last night couldn't play after taking the morning skate, did practice again today. There was no further update on his status for tomorrow.

Maurice has not yet named his starting goaltender, but the coach is confident with either of the two masked men. Pavelec has rebounded nicely after a tough ending in St. Louis and has now stopped
73 of the last 76 shots he’s faced (.961sv%)

GENERAL MANAGERS PROPOSE 3-ON-3 OVERTIME

At their annual meetings in Boca Raton, FL, NHL general managers recommended that the league go to a 3-on-3 format for regular-season overtime, beginning as early as the 2015-16 season, as a way to reduce the number of games that go to a shootout.

There are currently a number of models being discussed, including one currently being tested in the American Hockey League, which has the teams play 4-on-4 for the first three minutes of a seven-minute overtime period, followed by 3-on-3 play after the first whistle past the three-minute
mark if no one has scored.

The Jets head coach is a big fan, citing “an exciting conclusion” as the primary selling point.

“I think 3-on-3 is far more exciting [than a shootout] from my point of view,” Maurice said.

As of Tuesday, 224 of the AHL’s 922 games have extended to overtime. Of those, 171 were decided in the extra period. Last season, 307 were tied after regulation, but only 128 saw an overtime-winner, while 179 went to a shootout.

— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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