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Jets' blue-line depth could be tested

by Patrick Williams /
WINNIPEG -- Blue-line depth is a strength for the Winnipeg Jets, and injuries could test that depth this week.

The Jets skated on Tuesday morning before departing for Toronto, where they will begin a two-game road swing that begins on Wednesday night against the Maple Leafs and continues on Thursday at Ottawa.

Veteran defensemen Ron Hainsey (upper body) departed early in the second period of Monday night's 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins and did not return. Then in the third period, defenseman Mark Stuart took a shot high to his face. Stuart missed a few shifts before returning to finish the game, but departed Tuesday morning's practice early. Both Hainsey and Stuart play key roles on the Winnipeg penalty kill.

Jets coach Claude Noel did not have an updated status on Hainsey and Stuart, but he did indicate he will insert Derek Meech into the Winnipeg lineup against the Maple Leafs. Meech, a Winnipeg native, will make his season debut after not dressing for the club's opening four games.

"Derek has shown he is a good player," Noel said. "He has experience in the League. His skating is his strength. He is a smart player, so I think he is going to have good energy. He has been dying to play, so I think he will get an opportunity."

The Jets did have left wing Evander Kane back on the ice for Tuesday morning's practice. Kane missed Monday's game after taking a puck to his foot last Saturday at Phoenix, but could return against the Maple Leafs.

Noel would not reveal whether goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 28 shots against the Penguins, or backup Chris Mason will face the Maple Leafs, though he did tip his hand.

"I have a plan," Noel said of the goaltending situation. "My plan is to talk to [goaltending coach] Wade Flaherty. That's my plan. How would you not want to continue down the road with Pavelec? He played outstanding."

The game against Toronto begins a stretch in which the Jets will play nine of their next 11 games on the road against Eastern Conference opponents. The Jets followed their first win of the season with a practice session that Noel found to be lacking in execution.

"It takes a while to break people of some habits," Noel said. "I do get that."
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