Call it a measuring-stick game and a chance for the Winnipeg Jets to try and continue the roll from their just-completed homestand on the road against one of the NHL’s toughest squads: the Vancouver Canucks.
The Jets held an optional skate at MTS Centre Tuesday morning, fresh from wrapping up their eight-game homestand at 5-1-2 with a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Monday night. They’ll practice in Winnipeg Wednesday before heading to the left coast for Thursday night’s contest with the Canucks. The Jets will then wrap up their quick two-games-in-two-nights trip with a game in Calgary on Friday.
"Vancouver is obviously a good team, they went to the final last year," said head coach Claude Noel. "They have depth, they’ve got a lot of skill, speed. They’ve got a lot of elements required to get to the finals. We (the Manitoba Moose) were affiliated with them last year and so we know them a little bit from the inside. They can hurt you in a lot of ways. They have good goaltending… they’re good all the way through.
"They’ll pose a good challenge for us. We’ll be able to see whether we can carry this over and put our game out there. Our players are looking forward to that challenge. We’re in a good place right now. We’ve used this homestand to our advantage to get back in the standings and get back above the (playoff) line and build a little bit of confidence in our game. This will be an opportunity to see if we can push it forward here."
The Jets head into Tuesday night’s NHL action holding down 8th spot in the Eastern Conference with a 32-27-8 record – three ahead of the Washington Capitals and four points head of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Sabres. Winnipeg is just two points behind the Southeast-Division leading Florida Panthers, who have two games in hand.
Noel wouldn’t confirm that Ondrej Pavelec would start in Vancouver, but did hint that he would be riding his No. 1 goalie a ton in the final 15 games of the regular season.
"Right now we’re looking at Pavelec and the schedule allows us to rest a little bit," said Noel. "We’re pouring as much as we can into the games and therefore we’re trying to manage the off-game days. The goalie situation? I think Pavelec’s in a good place. He’s very well rested. He’s managing himself and we’ll take it game by game.
"But there’ no reason not to go with him if his play continues the same."