Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Thankful' Wheels hits 400

'Feels like it's been a lot more games than that,' veteran forward confesses

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tim campbell / winnipeg free press
The Jets went for a skate in Central Park when they practised on an outdoor rink Saturday afternoon. Winnipeg plays the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Monday night.

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tim campbell / winnipeg free press The Jets went for a skate in Central Park when they practised on an outdoor rink Saturday afternoon. Winnipeg plays the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Monday night.

NEW YORK -- The longevity factor was a side note well down his list, but Blake Wheeler sounded grateful nonetheless, having played his 400th NHL game Friday in Philadelphia.

The result, a 2-1 Jets loss, took some pleasure out of it.

"I didn't even know until right before the game, Stewy (Mark Stuart) brought it up," Wheeler told reporters after the team's Central Park skate Saturday. "That's kind of another thing. You kind of lose sight sometimes of these different milestones throughout the season. It feels like it's been a lot more games than that.

"They go by slowly, so I guess that's a good thing. I'm thankful to have played any games at all. To kind of get up there, I guess, feels good."

In his 400 career games, Wheeler has 98 goals, 151 assists and 249 points. The 27-year-old Minnesotan has played 21 Stanley Cup playoff games, all with Boston.

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Left-winger Evander Kane and defenceman Toby Enstrom were spectators for the team's skate in Central Park Saturday.

Enstrom was given the day off the ice for maintenance reasons.

Kane did not finish Friday's 2-1 loss in Philadelphia. He departed early in the second period with a lower-body injury, unable to continue after being checked by Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn.

Jets coach Claude Noel said it wasn't out of the question that both players could be in Monday's game at Madison Square Garden.

"My belief is yes, but I haven't been told (Kane) won't," the coach said.

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In the third period of Friday's frustrating loss, Noel tried to pull an old rabbit out of his hat for the team's struggling power play.

Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was again assigned to stand in front of the opposition goal instead of taking his usual spot at the point.

It didn't pay off, as the team went zero-for-six in the loss, falling to 11.5 per cent efficiency with the man advantage this season.

That's 28th out of 30 teams. Winnipeg was ranked 30th out of 30 last season.

"Not sure (if Byfuglien will continue there)," Noel said. "We've got to do some different things there. Tomorrow's going to be a work day. We've got to do some different things, get some things back on track again, because that doesn't help our momentum.

"There are a lot of things we need to get out of (the power play), and one of them is positive momentum and to inject some life in our team.

"We've struggled now going into our second year, so we've got some work to do."

That wrinkle was one thing to think about, but captain Andrew Ladd said he'll be looking for a more determined response in many areas for Monday's contest.

"I think you get stuff out of every game," Ladd said. "I think it's part of the season, the ups and downs, trying to learn from your mistakes. You'll have those moments and it's how you react and how you come back from them that really shows what you're all about."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2013 B2

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