December 18, 2018

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Record: 22 – 9 – 2

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Winnipeg Jets (22 – 9 – 2)

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Byfuglien, Morrissey, Kulikov could be back on Jets' blue line against Blues

They may not be bulletproof, but the Winnipeg Jets do not go down easily. When faced with injuries to key personnel, their resolve seems to increase.

Tuesday's game in New York against the Islanders was a prime example.

It was the club's third road game in four nights and with veteran blue-liners Dustin Byfuglien (concussion) and Joe Morrow (lower body) already out, top pairing D-man Josh Morrissey (lower body) took the pre-game skate before being scratched.

AHL callups Sami Niku, Cam Schilling and Nelson Nogier all played a part in Winnipeg's 3-1 victory.

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The Jets could have Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup for Friday's game with the visiting St. Louis Blues. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

The Jets could have Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup for Friday's game with the visiting St. Louis Blues. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

They may not be bulletproof, but the Winnipeg Jets do not go down easily. When faced with injuries to key personnel, their resolve seems to increase.

Tuesday's game in New York against the Islanders was a prime example.

It was the club's third road game in four nights and with veteran blue-liners Dustin Byfuglien (concussion) and Joe Morrow (lower body) already out, top pairing D-man Josh Morrissey (lower body) took the pre-game skate before being scratched.

AHL callups Sami Niku, Cam Schilling and Nelson Nogier all played a part in Winnipeg's 3-1 victory.

"When those guys go out, there's an onus on everyone," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler following a Thursday morning practice at Bell MTS Place. "The guys that have been around have got to do a bit more, help out defensively.

"From that standpoint it was great. All the guys really bought into that. You could see guys coming back hard, being in the right position defensively. Hopefully we can carry a lot of those habits into the games going forward when we get a bit more healthy."

Head coach Paul Maurice suggested past experience has added depth and toughness to his team, going back as far as Winnipeg's first playoff campaign in 2014-15, which was an injury-filled mess that would have devastated many teams.

"Yeah, we had five D out one night against San Jose," recalled Maurice. "We never talk about it in the room, about ‘Hey fellas, we’re short-staffed in any part of our game… There’s an awareness there but I would think having that experience, when you think of when (centre) Mark Scheifele went down last year... we got out of that 8-3-1 and that was a sign of depth for us that we hadn’t had in the past. So I do think it carries over."

There are limits to any team's resilience. The Jets could have Byfuglien and Morrissey back in the lineup for Friday's game with the visiting St. Louis Blues while another blue-liner, Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) practised Thursday and could also dress. Kulikov hasn't played since Nov. 9.

At least one of the trio is virtually guaranteed to be in Friday's game; the Jets sent Nogier back to the Moose Thursday afternoon.

Morrow has been ruled out and forward Andrew Copp (concussion) is considered day-to-day.

Maurice said a decision on Byfuglien, Morrissey, Kulikov and Copp will come closer to game time, adding there are limits to any team's ability to withstand a rash of injuries.

"There’s a threshold," he said. "You take enough bodies out of a lineup, you’re going to have very difficult time winning. We got fairly close to a threshold but didn’t cross. We had seven at times. You’re going to have a hard time surviving the eighth guy going down so if your mindset is regardless of who’s in your lineup you’re going to play a certain game, you have a chance. If you have some success with that game and you feel confident, but even there’s a number of guys, and this is the National Hockey League… if a third of your playing group is injured you’re going to have a tough time winning.

Wheeler suggested the current edition of the team has a battle-tested edge it hasn't had before. Rallying from a 1-0 deficit to score three in the third period illustrates his point.

"The Brooklyn game, we knew it was going to be a grind the whole way through," said Wheeler. "Typically, if you can get through the first period in that building, you've got a chance. They always come out pretty hard. We knew what to expect out of them. They're a very defensive oriented team.

"They have their success against teams that don't want to play that game for 60 minutes. We stuck with it. That was a really complete game for us. It didn't have to be a high-scoring game for it to be a good game. That building hasn't been great to us but we had the right mindset this year."

Byfuglien, involved in a collision with Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Jamie Oleksiak on Nov. 27, returned to the same game after passing through the concussion protocol. He experienced symptoms the next day and missed four games after a concussion diagnosis.

"That's very, very, very typical of concussions," said Wheeler. "Symptoms aren't always immediate. It's not uncommon for it to happen three or four days later. Sometimes those are the tricky ones because you don't know where it came from or where it happened, and you retrace your steps and, 'Oh, yeah, the guy's helmet hit me right on the jaw.' There's no rhyme or reason, it seems. It can be triggered in different areas, and it triggered for him a little bit later. Luckily it was caught when it was and he got the proper rest, and now he's ready to go."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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