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Jets' Little day-to-day, out vs. Panthers

Florida's Jagr one goal from tying Hull on all-time list

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

JETS (25-28-4) at PANTHERS (33-18-7)

TV: 7 p.m. ET; SN, FS-F, NHL.TV

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Winnipeg Jets will be without second-leading scorer Bryan Little when they face the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Saturday. 

Coach Paul Maurice said Little is day-to-day because of an upper-body injury sustained on a check by Tampa Bay Lighting defenseman Anton Stralman in the second period of the Jets' 6-5 shootout loss Thursday.

Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr will go into the game needing one goal to tie Brett Hull for third place on the NHL all-time list. Jagr scored his 740th goal Thursday in the Panthers' 2-1 shootout loss against the San Jose Sharks.

Little, who had X-rays taken of his neck Thursday, did not participate in the morning skate. 

Maurice said he wasn't sure Little would be able to play in the Jets' next game, Tuesday against the Dallas Stars at MTS Centre. 

"If we were at home maybe [I'd be] a little more optimistic for our next game," Maurice said. "He's got a four-hour flight to deal with so we'll see how he comes off that. But we'll just leave him as day-to-day." 

Little has 17 goals and 25 assists in 57 games. His 42 points are second on the Jets to Blake Wheeler's 54. 

Mathieu Perreault, who has split time between wing and center this season, will take Little's place at center on the top line with Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers.  

"That stems directly from his last stint at center in January, when we lost all our centermen there for a bit," Maurice said. "He came in and played really well there. He'll get that spot. We liked his play in the third period [against Tampa Bay] in that hole." 

Two players will make their NHL debuts for the Panthers on Saturday, including defenseman Michael Matheson, the 23rd pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. 

Matheson and forward Kyle Rau, who were called up from Portland of the American Hockey League on Friday, will become the fifth and sixth Panthers to make their NHL debut this season, following Connor Brickley, John McFarland, Logan Shaw and Brent Regner. 

"I'm real excited to have my first game," said Matheson, who had 14 points and a Portland-best a plus-14 rating in 43 AHL games in his first professional season. "I want to enjoy the moment. But at the same time I want to have a good performance. I want to make a mark and play well so that they believe that I can help the team here." 

Rau, a third-round pick (No. 91) in the 2011 draft, followed Panthers center Nick Bjugstad as Minnesota's Mr. Hockey, awarded to the best scholastic player in the state, and they were teammates at the University of Minnesota. 

Rau is tied for the Portland lead with 17 goals in 48 games. 

"He's a really tenacious player, works hard, gets in the dirty areas even though he's one of the smaller guys," Matheson said of the 5-foot-8, 178-pound Rau. "He doesn't shy away from anything. I wouldn't be surprised if he was in the corner battling against [Jets defenseman Dustin] Byfuglien tonight. That's just the type of player he is." 

Roberto Luongo will be back in goal for the Panthers after backup Al Montoya made consecutive starts against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sharks. 

Luongo allowed at least three goals in each of his five starts since appearing in the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game. 

"Every goalie loves that when they go through a little bit of a tough time, then you have a couple of games off," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "You have two or three or four good practice days. I think it's great for [Luongo]. He got a chance to work on some stuff. [Luongo] is an older guy and the rest has been really good. When [Montoya] goes in there, [Montoya] has played real well, so it's been a good fit for the two of them." 

The Panthers have lost five of their past seven games (2-3-2) but lead the Atlantic Division by five points. 

This will be the first meeting between the Panthers and Jets this season. They also play March 1 at Winnipeg. 

Here are the projected lineups: 

Nikolaj Ehlers - Mathieu Perreault - Blake Wheeler 
Andrew Ladd - Mark Scheifele - Joel Armia  
Alexander Burmistrov - Adam Lowry - Drew Stafford  
Chris Thorburn - Andrew Copp - Anthony Peluso  

Toby Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien  
Jacob Trouba - Tyler Myers  
Ben Chiarot - Paul Postma  

Michael Hutchinson  
Ondrej Pavelec  

Injured: Bryan Little (upper body), Mark Stuart (upper body), Grant Clitsome (upper body) 
Scratched: Adam Pardy  

Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Jussi Jokinen  
Reilly Smith - Vincent Trocheck - Jaromir Jagr 
Kyle Rau - Derek MacKenzie - Logan Shaw 
Garrett Wilson - Greg McKegg - Shawn Thornton  

Brian Campbell - Alex Petrovic  
Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad   
Steven Kampfer - Michael Matheson 

Roberto Luongo 
Al Montoya 

Injured: Brandon Pirri (ankle), Quinton Howden (upper body), Aleksander Barkov (upper body), Erik Gudbranson (upper body), Willie Mitchell (lower body), Dave Bolland (lower body)

Scratched: none

Status report: Hutchinson will make his first start since Feb. 6 when he allowed two goals on 34 shots in a 4-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. Hutchinson appeared in relief of Connor Hellebuyck in a 6-2 loss against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 11. ... Postma will be in the lineup for a second consecutive game after being a healthy scratch for his first eight games after being recalled from Manitoba of the AHL. "I liked the way the rest of our defense sorted out with Paul in the lineup [against Tampa Bay], and I liked his game," Maurice said. ... Rau will take McFarland's spot on the line with MacKenzie and Shaw, but Gallant said he would consider having him play with Bjugstad at some point. 

Who's hot: Wheeler has two goals and three assists during a four-game point streak. ... Bjugstad has three goals in five career games against the Jets.


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