December 11, 2018

Winnipeg
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Record: 18 – 9 – 2

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Winnipeg Jets (18 – 9 – 2)

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Buff back, but Maurice doesn't expect Mile High performance in Denver

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/1/2018 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DENVER — The Winnipeg Jets will look to continue their winning ways when they play their first game of 2018 on the road tonight against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

The Jets (23-11-6) have been on a run, earning wins in their last three games since coming out of the Christmas break. If they plan to make it four straight they’ll have to beat an Avalanche club in need of making up ground in the Central Division — but one that has played some of its best hockey, of late.

Every team is expected to hit another gear in the second half of the season, and the Jets are no exception. They understand there is a target on their back as the team atop the Central Division.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/1/2018 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) at practice Saturday at the Iceplex. Byfuglien will draw back into the lineup tonight. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) at practice Saturday at the Iceplex. Byfuglien will draw back into the lineup tonight. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

DENVER — The Winnipeg Jets will look to continue their winning ways when they play their first game of 2018 on the road tonight against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

The Jets (23-11-6) have been on a run, earning wins in their last three games since coming out of the Christmas break. If they plan to make it four straight they’ll have to beat an Avalanche club in need of making up ground in the Central Division — but one that has played some of its best hockey, of late.

Every team is expected to hit another gear in the second half of the season, and the Jets are no exception. They understand there is a target on their back as the team atop the Central Division.

"A lot of teams are pushing to make the playoffs and the second half of the season is usually hard-fought games," said winger Mathieu Perreault. "We’re probably going to see that tonight, playing a team that’s fighting to get into the playoffs."

Colorado (19-16-3) is on a high following an impressive 6-1 win over the New York Islanders on New Year’s Eve, claiming victories in two of the first three games of a season-long, six-game homestand. Colorado is 6-3-1 in its last 10. They’ve been lights-out at home on special teams, boasting the league’s top penalty kill (93.7 per cent). Home or away, the Avalanche is a perfect 32-for-32 on the PK in their last 11 contests.

"The PK has been big for us — a big momentum boost for us. We’re finding a way to score; we’ve had some depth in our lineup and secondary scoring, which is obviously been important for us and our power play has been chipping in," said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog.

"Right now we’re feeling good about ourselves and we want to keep this thing going here and take advantage of this homestand."

The Avalanche defeated the Jets 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 29 in the Mile High City.

For Landeskog, the only surprise in the Jets' success this year is that it didn’t happen earlier, given how talented their roster has been the past couple of years, he said.

"I don’t know where things have been going off the rails for them the last couple years or if it’s the division being that strong," said Landeskog, who has points in each of his last three games (two goals, three assists).

"But this year it seems they’re taking it to another level and everyone is scoring and everybody has been taking a step in the right direction — or at least it seems like from the outside. It’s an exciting division to be a part of because they’re so good."

Big defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who has been out of the lineup the past 10 games with a lower-body injury, was back out with the Jets for the morning pre-game skate and has participated in the last two practices, including his first full-contact workout Monday in Denver.

He’ll draw back into the lineup tonight, taking the spot of rookie Tucker Poolman on the right, alongside Ben Chiarot. The Jets were 6-3-1 without Byfuglien.

"The decision is not hard; we’re going to put a real good player in that lineup," said head coach Paul Maurice. "But in terms of fairness, it’s not easy to go to a guy where you don’t have any issues with his game. But that’s a first-year player and we’re very positive where Tucker is at. He’s sat out blocks (of games); gone down to the American League; he’s come back and is better than he was the first time through and understands the game a little more. Learning the game as a defenceman takes some time, but we’re really pleased with where he’s at."

There are few doubts that Byfuglien, as he shakes off the rust, will provide a boost to the Jets back end. He’s an intimidating force on the ice, and though susceptible to breakdowns in his own end at times, provides a blanket of security for the team’s younger players, even when on the bench.

"He’s been a pain in the ass, really; does not like sitting out," added Maurice.

One thing Byfuglien hasn’t provided this year is his usual offensive punch. Gifted with a good pair of hands and a booming shot, Byfuglien has scored at least 15 goals in seven of his last nine seasons — excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, where he had eight goals in 43 games — with two of those years resulting in 20-goal campaigns. But he has yet to score in 28 games this year, even though he has logged big minutes and has had ample power-play time.

For a guy who has always been relied upon for his offensive production, there is some risk that Byfuglien might want to do too much in his return.

"So, you have that conversation — even with a veteran guy like that — what the first game back is all about. Trying not to reclaim the 10 (games) that you missed in the first period," Maurice said. "He’s a gamer; he just wants to play. He’s excited about the game, and when he doesn’t get to play he’s no fun."

Though the Jets would like to see Byfuglien’s familiar scoring touch return to form, they don’t exactly need it. The team is tied for fourth in the NHL, averaging 3.33 goals through 40 games this season. They have six players with at least 10 goals this season and a power play that has continued to play well without him, including three goals in the last two games.

"We don’t need anybody to play out-of-game quality to score goals. We don’t need anybody to break the game open," said Maurice. "There are times — you’re tied games, you’re tight (games) — but we don’t need anybody to change or to come out of our structure to score. We have enough offence to score that we can play our game the right way and feel confident that on most nights we’ll put enough in."

Toby Enstrom took part in the morning skate wearing a non-contact jersey but is expected to be out for at least another week. Mark Scheifele (upper-body) and Brandon Tanev (lower-body) will also miss another game.

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Read full biography

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