ANAHEIM — It’s not a bad way to thaw out from Saturday’s snowy Heritage Classic in Regina — soaking up the sun in southern California. But after a day off to recharge their batteries and work on their golf games, the Winnipeg Jets got back to business Monday and returned to the ice for practice.
However, the 6-6-0 Jets be without shutdown centre Adam Lowry as a three-game road trip begins tonight in Anaheim. The 26-year-old forward has been suspended for two games without pay for boarding Calgary Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington during Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout win at Mosaic Stadium.
The hit happened at the end of the second period. Lowry was assessed a minor penalty, while Kylington appeared shaken but returned to action.
"Lowry pinches down from his position in front of the net, and, having seen nothing but Kylington’s numbers for some time, delivers a forceful hit into the back of Kylington, driving him dangerously into the boards," the NHL department of player safety said Monday afternoon in their video explaining the punishment.
"It is important to note that from the moment Kylington collects the puck behind the net, Lowry sees nothing but his back. While we acknowledge Lowry’s assertion that he anticipated Kylington opening up as he came up ice so that Lowry could deliver a legal check, the onus is on Lowry to adjust course when that doesn’t happen."
Following the game, Lowry said he meant no harm.
"Don’t really know how much time’s left and he’s playing the puck along the wall. You’re kind of going hard. Obviously, his back is to you, so your trying to catch a piece of him but not anything too much. If you look at it, I get mostly his arm. I think it’s the position he’s put in where it looks worse than it is," said Lowry.
"I’m happy he came back. That’s a tough one. At some point you have to protect yourself but at the same time, maybe I don’t have to do that hit."
Lowry is a repeat offender, having been suspended for two games in March for high-sticking Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg. He was also given a one-game banishment in November 2014 for boarding Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres. Lowry is making US$2.916 million this season and will forfeit US$71,138.22 in pay. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice will have to shuffle his lines with Lowry out for the Ducks game and Friday’s tilt in San Jose. Lowry can return for the final game of the road trip Saturday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Andrew Copp is expected to move from the wing back to centre, with Mathieu Perreault moving up to play with him and Jack Roslovic. That would leave rookie David Gustafsson, veteran Gabriel Bourque and Manitoba Moose centre Logan Shaw, who was called up Monday, to round out the fourth line.
Shaw, 27, is taking Mason Appleton’s spot on the roster. Appleton has been placed on injured reserve and will miss at least a month after breaking a bone in his right foot while throwing a football around with teammates Friday.
The Jets are also without centre Mark Letestu, who remains on IR with an upper-body injury.
Shaw has 180 NHL games under his belt, split between the Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadiens.
Shaw signed with the Jets organization last year. He leads the Moose in scoring with three goals and two assists in eight games.
Maurice is also shuffling his top lines in an attempt to find a spark. Winnipeg has scored just nine goals in the last six games, going 2-4-0 in that stretch. Kyle Connor will reunite with captain Blake Wheeler (who has no points in his last six games) and No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele.
Patrik Laine will move down to play with Bryan Little (who scored the overtime winner in Regina) and Nikolaj Ehlers. However, that’s contingent on Laine being able to play. The winger, who has three goals and 10 assists in 12 games, was shaken up during Monday’s skate at the Honda Center in Anaheim following a collision with defenceman Luca Sbisa, who the Jets picked up on waivers last week from the Ducks.
"It wasn’t anything major. He’s been dealing with some nicks like everybody else. We’ll have to wait to see how he is (Tuesday) before we make a decision on him," Maurice told reporters following the skate.
With Lowry suspended and no extra healthy forwards, the Jets may have to call up another player from the Moose as insurance.
As for the tweaks to the top six, Maurice said the group needs to pick up the offensive pace. The Jets have been getting plenty of good opportunities but either firing wide or getting denied by good goaltending lately.
"We are not generating in those six players as much as we’d like to, so we’ll give it a run," said Maurice. "We’re really bearing down. We need to relax a little bit... We’ve missed the net on most of our chances the last four, five games."
Connor, who has four goals and two assists, said it’s good to be reunited with the pair he’s spent the majority of his young career with. Connor had a few shifts with Wheeler and Scheifele in the third period Saturday, as the Jets erased a 1-0 deficit thanks to a Josh Morrissey power-play goal and Little’s OT winner, set up by Connor. Previously, Laine and Ehlers have spent time on the top line.
"That (top six) group’s been together for the past couple years, so there’s been lots of line combinations. I think every one of those players is so elite, they can score different ways and make plays, too. It’s a good group. I think you can plug anybody into that hole and they’ll have success," said Connor.
On the positive side, Winnipeg has cut down on goals against of late, thanks largely to Connor Hellebuyck’s strong goaltending but also an overall defence-first team approach.
"We’re just working right now to make sure we keep it out of our net and try to capitalize when you get chances. If it’s 2-1 games for us to get two points in the standings, then that’s what it’s going to be," Perreault said.
"We work as five men on the ice to defend hard. Helly’s been making great saves for us, so the time we do have little breakdowns he makes the saves that we need. So that’s kind of the recipe to win games."
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.