WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice is “reasonably confident” some familiar faces will return to his team’s line-up tonight when they take on the New Jersey Devils.
Forwards Drew Stafford and Alexander Burmistrov both took part in regular line rushes near the end of morning skate. Stafford has been on injured reserve since Jan. 14, while Burmistrov was a game time decision on Thursday, but didn’t suit up.
“We’ll give them the afternoon to make sure they feel as good as they did this morning,” said Maurice. “Then we’ll have to make a decision.”
“Everybody plays a pretty big role on our team. Especially getting those guys back, it will help, but at the same time we play the same style of game,” said defenceman Jacob Trouba. “No matter who we have in the line up you’ve got to be ready to play and give yourself a chance to win.”
Stafford’s 14 goals are one back of the team lead held by Bryan Little. Maurice had Stafford with Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers at pre-game skate, moving Joel Armia off that wing.
“Smaller picture, that line has played pretty well. Bigger picture, we didn’t win a couple games with them in that. Drew has to come in with players that can best help him access his talent,” said Maurice. “At the same time, you want to be careful of throwing him in the number one role. So you try to find that middle ground, give him a chance to be as good as he can be, at the same time, don’t put too many minutes on him early in the game when he hasn’t played in a little while.”
Ehlers has points in four of his last five games, and has played on the same line as Stafford a number of times throughout the season. Coincidentally, the rookie’s first NHL point came against New Jersey back on Oct. 9. His assist helped the Jets to a 3-1 win that night.
“They’re a really aggressive team. I think we’re prepared for that,” Ehlers said of the Devils. “But I think it’s more about how we need to prepare for this game. How we need to go out in the first minute, and see where it goes.”
Maurice remembers that win from early October. It was the first set of back-to-back games the Jets faced this season, and the coach says he was more excited about the win than others might have been at the time.
“We played a really good game to beat them. We were really good that night on back-to-back nights. I was pleased with our game,” said Maurice. “We’re going to have to skate tonight. They’re quick, they move the puck efficiently, they’re on you. They don’t waste a lot of offence.
“They’re not running around banging guys but they’re waiting, not passively, they’re an aggressive team, but they’ll wait for that seam, that hole, and they’ll make those plays.”
It’s those type of plays that New Jersey has been making lately. The Devils come into MTS Centre on a three-game winning streak, which includes a 6-3 win over Ottawa on Thursday. That was the first time the Devils had put six goals on the board since 2014.
Winnipeg native Travis Zajac had four points in the win, and former Jet Lee Stempniak also scored in that contest.
“I really felt with Lee, tops of the circles and in, he got it on his stick he had a real good release and nice touch,” said Maurice. “He’s getting an opportunity to play with really good players on that top line, and I’m happy for him.”
At 24-19-5, the Devils are hanging on to the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Colorado’s shoot-out win over St. Louis last night puts the Jets (21-23-3) eight points back of a wildcard spot in the West.
“There’s a lot of teams fighting for a couple spots in the playoffs,” said Trouba. “You can’t wait until the last month of the season. There are so many teams that are so close, and we have to find a way back into this. We have to show a little bit of desperation here early and just continue to fight and get as many points as we can.”
The first chance to get some of those points is tonight, and Trouba, who played 23:56 in the 4-1 loss to Nashville, said a win would go a long way to getting the current six-game home stand back on track.
“We’ve got to worry about what’s going on in here and getting the good feeling back in our locker room,” he said. “I don’t think we liked exactly how we felt yesterday coming into that practice day after that game against Nashville. We want to get back on the right track.”
Puck drop is 6 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com