February 24, 2018

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Winnipeg Jets (36 – 16 – 9)

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Maurice changes lines at Jets practice

"St. Louis was pretty jacked up to play us," said Ben Chiarot. (Mike Deal / Free Press files)</p>

"St. Louis was pretty jacked up to play us," said Ben Chiarot. (Mike Deal / Free Press files)

The Winnipeg Jets may have the NHL's best home record but there's a price to be paid for all that success.

"When you're higher in the standings, and we're close to first, you're going to get teams pretty geared up to play you when they come in," said veteran Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot following practice at Bell MTS Place Saturday afternoon. "This is a tough building to play in and when you put where we are in the standings on top of that, teams are going to come out hard. If we're off one night or sleeping to start, we're going to be off on the wrong foot.

"And St. Louis was pretty jacked up to play us."

The Jets, mostly outplayed by the Blues in a 5-2 loss to St. Louis Friday night, will have another chance to defend home ice Sunday afternoon (2 p.m., TSN3, TSN 1290) when the New York Rangers make their lone visit of the 2017-18 season.

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The Winnipeg Jets may have the NHL's best home record but there's a price to be paid for all that success.

"When you're higher in the standings, and we're close to first, you're going to get teams pretty geared up to play you when they come in," said veteran Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot following practice at Bell MTS Place Saturday afternoon. "This is a tough building to play in and when you put where we are in the standings on top of that, teams are going to come out hard. If we're off one night or sleeping to start, we're going to be off on the wrong foot.

"And St. Louis was pretty jacked up to play us."

The Jets, mostly outplayed by the Blues in a 5-2 loss to St. Louis Friday night, will have another chance to defend home ice Sunday afternoon (2 p.m., TSN3, TSN 1290) when the New York Rangers make their lone visit of the 2017-18 season.

Winnipeg was 20-4-2 at home and tied for top spot in the Central Division while the Rangers were three points out of a wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday's action.

On Thursday, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton sent shockwaves through the league when he announced the club was entering a rebuilding phase and warned the club's fans that a sell-off of major assets was probable prior to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. It is believed veterans such as Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, David Desharnais, Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello could all be in play.

The Rangers have qualified for the post-season for seven straight seasons. What effect might this have on their performance?

"It can go both ways," said Chiarot. "They could be completely relaxed and not play as hard as they should or they can relax and play loose and still play hard and they're not afraid to make plays because they're just playing hockey games — not really worried about winning or losing.

"I think we'll see a tough game. Those East teams, it's a different style. A little more wide open and New York has some dangerous players."

Jets head coach Paul Maurice expects the more dangerous version.

"The New York Rangers are in a lot better position to make the playoffs right now, based on that," said Maurice. "They’ve been in the playoffs for a long time, they’ve got some big contracts and some older players there. There’s an awful lot of pressure (in that market). They start the season as part of the contenders (for the Stanley Cup), it doesn’t happen for them and there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the players. The more veteran the group, the more they feel it. But the pressure is off these guys now.

"They’re only three points out (of the playoffs), but the pressure has been lifted for them. I think they’re at their most dangerous now and they’ve got a far better chance of making the playoffs than they did five or six days ago."

LINE JUGGLING: Maurice made a significant move in practice, swapping Mathieu Perreault in on the left side with centre Mark Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler while moving Patrik Laine to the right side of the No. 2 line, with Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers.

The tweak, Maurice said, was not a response to what transpired during Friday's game.

"I liked what Patty was trying to do – he was physical, he was on the puck," said Maurice. "Give Mark a little more time, get him re-acclimated to the game a bit, balance the lines a bit. Nikky’s got a few games here without being overly prolific. I’ve had Little’s line in a role against the other team’s best, at some point that has to transition (to Scheifele's unit). It’s different now that the injuries that we have on what was the (Adam) Lowry line. All those things factored into it."

REVERTING TO FORM: The Jets have lost consecutive games in regulation only four times this season and they're not planning to add to that total today.

"There's just too many games," said blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien, not expecting a repeat performance of Friday's loss to the Blues. "Our team hasn't shown any of this, this year. It's something where we're not worried — shouldn't be worried. It's just one of those games where it wasn't our night."

Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, expected to start against the Blueshirts, was pleased with the response in Saturday's practice.

"Our gaps weren't smothering enough in the game," said Hellebuyck. "But today we looked good. Everyone out there, they worked and got back on pace and guys are still feeling the confidence we've been building all year long."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Read more by Mike Sawatzky.

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