-- It didn’t take long to notice something was different when the Winnipeg Jets took to the ice at MTS Iceplex this morning.
Dustin Byfuglien and Paul Postma were wearing forward jerseys instead of the red threads they’re used to. Goaltender Michael Hutchinson wasn’t on the ice (maintenance), and neither were Mathieu Perreault or Drew Stafford.
It didn’t take Head Coach Paul Maurice long to run through an update with the media following the one hour practice.
“(Mathieu) Perreault has a significant lower body injury. We would be hopeful that he would return by the end of he regular season. If he does, it won’t be much sooner than that,” Maurice said. “Drew is day to day, he’ll take the morning skate tomorrow. If he feels good, he’ll play… (Postma), I needed a forward up there. We’ve called up Carl Klingberg and he’ll join us in Washington.”
Perreault’s lower-body injury comes after the forward had tied his career high for goals in a season (18). Losing a key player near the end of the season may also be a bit of déjà vu for the Jets, who lost Mark Scheifele with 19 games to go in last year’s regular season. Maurice said the team would miss Perreault’s presence on far more than just the power play and 5-on-5 situations.
“What I think he brings more than anything, is the style of play for not being a big man,” Maurice said. “I don’t know if there’s another forward who gets on the puck the way he does on the forecheck. He’s not running guys through the boards, but he does it our way, differently, because he’s not 6’4”. But he gets on that puck as well as any forward that we have, and he gets in on the forecheck, and he creates a lot with his intensity.”
Blake Wheeler says the Jets are used to this type of adversity. It’s something they’ve dealt with all season.
“It’s part of the game. Everyone is going to lose guys to injuries,” Wheeler said. “It’s just an opportunity for other guys to step up and take more responsibility, and take it in stride.”
With the injuries to the forward lines, Michael Frolik found himself with new line mates today: Mark Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien. Frolik has been moved up and down the line-up multiple times this season.
“I’m comfortable with that. I know the guys pretty well down here,” said Frolik. “Obviously with Buff, he’ll make some space out there and hopefully it can be good for us.”
As for Byfuglien moving back to forward (at least, for today’s skate), Maurice says the 29-year-old is taking it in stride.
“When I talked to him today, he didn’t even joke around, he said ‘whatever you need’ and he’s willing to do that, and you see it in his play.” Maurice said. “There’s no drop off. He’d prefer to play defence, but he goes out and competes, and he’s trying to win hockey games. He’s been a great, great leader in our room.”
Up next on the schedule for the Jets is the Washington Capitals (31-17-10). Following the Jets’ 5-4 shootout win over Edmonton, Wheeler is looking forward to seeing some video on the Capitals, who the Jets have yet to play this season.
“We’ll watch video on them before the game tomorrow,” Wheeler said, before adding with a smile, “As of right now though, I know they have one guy that can score some goals.”
That would be Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s league leader in that department, with 37. Maurice believes there is more to the Capitals’ game than offense.
“Washington was always valued by their offense. That was the hallmark of the team, ‘could they score enough to beat you?’” Maurice said. “Now they’re just a real good solid team. They play a great team game.”
The Capitals are in a similar position as the Winnipeg Jets when it comes to the playoff picture. Both teams hold down the top wildcard spots in their respective conferences. The Jets will go into Thursday’s contest at Verizon Center with wins in four of their last five games, but Frolik says there is room for improvement.
“We need to be a little tighter defensively. We’ve given up four goals the last two games,” he said. “We know we can be better in that area. That’s the mindset to go into the game. We know we can score some goals, but have to make sure we’re good defensively.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com