FARMER'S BRANCH, TX - After dispatching the St. Louis Blues 5-3 one night ago, the Winnipeg Jets returned to practice rink today for a brisk, 25-minute skate at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Farmer's Branch, Texas.
Blake Wheeler and Toby Enstrom (maintenance) did not take part, but Mathieu Perreault (broken finger) and Drew Stafford (upper body) did, and could be available for Thursday's game against the Dallas Stars.
Perreault has missed the past three games, while Stafford the previous four, and are both close to getting back and helping the Jets make a push in the wild-card playoff race.
Perreault could be an option for tomorrow, while Stafford is looking more likely for Saturday's Colorado contest.
Between the pipes, Ondrej Pavelec - who is coming off a 24-save effort on Tuesday vs. St. Louis - got some early work in with Goaltending Coach Wade Flaherty and was a full participant in practice, while Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson shared the other net.
Pavelec is now 4-2 since being recalled from the Manitoba Moose, and as Head Coach Paul Maurice explained post-game, the improved goaltending has given the team some confidence at both ends of the rink. Maurice went out of his way to include Hellebuyck in that discussion, as the 23-year-old responded well in his only start since the recall with a sparkling, 30-save win against the Chicago Blackhawks before the NHL All-Star Break.
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
Hellebuyck has a .908 save percentage, while Hutchinson and Pavelec are second and third with .894 and .893, respectively, but the recent shuffle in goal is "not a save percentage issue," according to the coach.
"I'm looking at 'expected goals,'" he said. "Do you expect a guy to make a save or what happens on a play that he stops the puck but doesn't save the puck, so it's back into play. That's where I think (Pavelec) has really excelled. … In a game last games - it was sloppy, for both teams - his control of the rebounds was the key piece."
Pavelec will get the start in goal for a second straight game tomorrow night.
Jacob Trouba was a monster on D Tuesday, recording the game-winning goal, five shots, two hits and two takeaways in 24:53 of ice time, and is definitely playing some of the best hockey of his young career right now.
Above all, he showed great patience with and without the puck, was a physical force, and made strong reads at the defensive blue line to either disrupt the Blues' entries, or punish their skilled forwards with a big hit along the boards.
The way in which he's elevated his game from this point last year has exceeded all expectations, even internally, as Maurice alluded to in his post-game press conference.
Video: PRACTICE | Jacob Trouba
"Every player needs to find (his) way somehow," Trouba said. "For me, it all starts with my legs, and that's something I've really keyed on. Whether it's in the offensive or defensive zone, or getting up in the play, it all starts with my legs.
"There's been moments over the past couple years where I've had (consistency), and then I've lost it. Slowly but surely I'm starting to get the hang of it."
Maurice lauded the defenceman's play post-game, crediting a strong summer of off-season training to help get him to this point. At just 22 years old, the now 6-foot-3, 202-pound blueliner is blossoming into a top-flight defender right before our eyes.
"All of this comes with confidence and rhythm, and some of that is experience," Maurice said. "His reads are better; when to drive at a player, when to give ice - that is experience and a lot of time it takes years to develop that. When he's decided now to close a gap there's no hesitation, he gets there big and strong, a lot of times the guy ends up on his butt, and his stick is really good in those situations. There's less uncertainty in his game, which makes him quicker, and then his power and strength makes him really effective finishing the deal."
Offensively, Trouba is on pace to eclipse of his career-high of 29 points and then some, as he has tallied 21 (4G, 17A) in only 38 games this season.
Asked who, in particular, has helped him achieve success this season, Trouba insisted it's been a collective effort, from the coaching staff to his teammates, with plenty of video mixed in.
"Everyone's really had a hand in it, I can't really single out one person. They've all pulled me aside and showed me certain clips. That stuff is what helps me and I've had a lot of it this year."
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com