Connor Hellebuyck will aim for his 30th win of the season tonight as the Winnipeg Jets try to end a homestand on a positive note in an all-Canadian match-up of division leaders.
Standing in their way is a red-hot Calgary Flames team that has won three straight games to vault into top spot in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. Johnny Gaudreau had a six-point night on Tuesday against New Jersey, and Matthew Tkachuk had a five-point game Friday against the New York Rangers.
“I think they have scored a lot of goals and, obviously, they have a good offence and a great first line and a lot of guys with a lot of goals and points. We just got to play good defence. I think, if we want to win this game, we have to play good defence and score from the chances they’re going to give us, but we can’t give them anything easily,” Jets forward Patrik Laine said following Saturday’s morning skate at Bell MTS Place.
Winnipeg (41-25-4) is coming off a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins that kept them on top of the Central Division.
“I think it will be a good challenge for us. They’re obviously leading the conference, so they will be pretty good this year. Likely, if we can play our best hockey, we’re going to see them in the playoffs. So, it will be a good matchup, and hopefully we can win this game and we can use those two points. It will be a good matchup, for sure,” said Laine.
No lineup changes are expected for the Jets, although defenceman Dmitry Kulikov and forwards Brandon Tanev, Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers all missed the morning skate.
When asked if any could be unavailable to play, coach Paul Maurice said “no, not as of right now.”
The Jets have lost both previous games to the Flames this season by a combined score of 10-4. Calgary arrived in town in the early morning hours and did not skate this morning. They’ve had a flu bug going through the team, so their lineup isn’t clear. Sean Monahan left Friday’s game due to not feeling well and didn’t travel with the club.
“They’ve got a really good hockey team and they’ve got kind of all the bases covered. They’ve got enough physicality and defensive structure that you’re not going to get an easy game in terms of moving the puck up and down the ice. And clearly they have a real nice high level of skill, they can finish on plays if you give them room to make those plays,” said Maurice.
“There’s a certain amount of creativity that makes them, sometimes, hard to define what you’re going to see when they stretch and run their offensive schemes. There’s certain teams that we play you can almost describe the game before it happens and it’s pretty consistent. We’ve had unusual games with them so I don’t know that I have a good handle on what it’s going to look like.”
This will be the ninth straight game the Jets have faced a playoff team at the time the puck dropped.
“It’s important that you get geared up and start preparing for the playoffs. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to go up against some quality teams and really iron out our game. I think over the last little bit we’ve started to play better, and I think generally we’ve played pretty well against teams that are sitting well in the standings. You gotta beat good teams in the playoffs so it’s important that you do that in the regular season, too,” said forward Adam Lowry.
Following the game, the Jets head west for a three-game road trip with stops in Los Angeles, Anaheim and Vegas.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.