PITTSBURGH — The hits keep coming for the Winnipeg Jets' battered blue-line corps.
Top defenceman Josh Morrissey has been ruled out for tonight's game against the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins, one day after coach Paul Maurice declared him ready to go.
Morrissey suffered an upper-body injury after a collision with a teammate during the warmup before Sunday's game against the New York Islanders and missed the contest, but was a full participant at Monday's practice here in Pittsburgh.
"He got through the practice, he just didn’t feel great like an hour after. We just want to be real careful, that’s all. We’ll hold him out another game, precautionary," Maurice said this morning.
The Jets will also be without defenceman Dmitry Kulikov, who has left the team to attend to a personal family matter. Throw in the injury to Nathan Beaulieu (upper-body, at least three more weeks), the Dustin Byfuglien situation (currently mulling his playing future, suspended from the team) and the off-season departures of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot and Winnipeg has basically turned over the entire blue line.
Sami Niku will be in the lineup, having been called up Monday from the Manitoba Moose. He likely would have cracked the opening-night roster but was dealing with a nagging groin injury suffered during training camp, which meant some conditioning on the farm.
Niku is expected to play with Carl Dahlstrom, a waiver-wire pickup from Chicago who made his Jets debut Sunday in place of Morrissey. Neal Pionk, who arrived from the New York Rangers in the Trouba trade, and 18-year-old Ville Heinola, are expected to be the top pair, while Tucker Poolman and Anthony Bitetto will be the other duo.
Nelson Nogier was also called up from the Moose as added insurance but isn't expected to play.
Maurice said so much roster flux this early in the season has "been a new experience for us."
"You know what? The attitude's been good, they've worked hard. They've stayed positive, they're still trying to make plays, they're not showing a lot of tentative play out there, which is really good. It's all about growth for that blue line," said Maurice.
Connor Hellebuyck will get his second start of the season, looking to rebound after a tough first game in which he gave up five goals on 31 shots to the Rangers. Laurent Brossoit got the next two games, a 5-4 shootout win in New Jersey and a 4-1 defeat Sunday on Long Island.
No other lineup changes are expected for the Jets.
Winnipeg (1-2-0) is looking to end this tough four-game season-opening road trip on a positive note, facing a 1-1-0 Penguins team that is without a couple of top centres in Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad due to injury.
The Jets fly back to Winnipeg following the game and play their home-opener Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild.
SCRATCHED: Little (concussion), Morrissey (injured), Nogier (healthy), Gustafsson (healthy)
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.