The Winnipeg Jets are welcoming back defenceman Toby Enstrom, won’t have Ron Hainsey (hand) or Mark Stuart (undisclosed) on the back end due to injury, winger James Wright has been placed on injured reserve and the Tampa Bay Lightning are in the market for a new head coach, with plenty of speculation that person could be unveiled as quickly as Monday.
Other than that, it was business as usual Sunday morning as two Southeast Division teams get set to battle to cap a four-game homestand for the Jets, who are looking to rebound after a pair of ugly losses to the Washington Capitals.
“We’re going to have to come out and try to get on the board early,” said Jets winger Evander Kane. “We need to come out and show we’re going to work in their zone for most of the game, try to get one early, try to get the fans into it and get ourselves into it.
“After two games like that, you kind of want to forget about it a little bit and get back to your normal life and come to the rink the next day feeling refreshed and for the most part, the guys feel that way.”
The Jets go into Sunday’s action with a two-point lead on the Carolina Hurricanes in the chase for first place in the Southeast, though the Hurricanes will hold three games in hand before the two teams meet on Tuesday night.
The Lightning are seven points behind the Jets and hold one game in hand on them.
Enstrom was probably getting tired of being asked when he was going to return from his shoulder injury, so he was quick to announce he was ready when reporters approached him Sunday morning.
“I’m really looking forward to the end of the season, coming up here and the race for a playoff spot,” said Enstrom, who has 13 points in 13 games this season. “I’m just coming to come in and play my game, help out the team to move forward. I feel great and I’m just excited and happy to be back playing.”
Enstrom should give the Jets stagnant power play (1-for-15) a boost, not to mention giving Dustin Byfuglien his security blanket back. Byfuglien has enjoyed a strong start to the season, but hasn’t been himself for most of the past five games.
The loss of Hainsey (who said he doesn’t expect the hand injury to keep him out long) and Stuart (who we expect should be ready for Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes) leaves Jets head coach Claude Noel with some interesting decisions when it comes to the D-pairings, oustide of Byfuglien and Enstrom.
Either Grant Clitsome or Derek Meech could play alongside Zach Bogosian, with the other joining Paul Postma on the third pairing.
Noel talked about the Lightning move, which will see Daniel Lacroix, Marty Raymond and Steve Thomas behind the bench on Sunday.
“We have to deal with our own situation, really,” said Noel. “It does (impact) a team, one way or the other. I don’t think anybody likes those things to happen, players included.”
Shifting gears, I also asked Kane about Boucher’s dismissal.
“I didn’t really have much of a reaction,” said Kane. “I know him a little bit, he was our assistant coach on our world junior team and for the past world championship. I’m a fan of him. But that’s their team, their organization and I’m not too worried about it.”
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman addressed reporters at The Fairmont and said the move was about more than just trying to make the playoffs this year.
“I’ve noticed a difference in our play and in the attitude, just as an observation of our players and felt the situation is quickly worsening and that something needs to be done immediately,” said Yzerman, who notified Boucher last night. ”
Yzerman doesn’t have a specific timetable but is not looking for an interim, but one that will guide the Lightning into the future.
“I’m not looking to drag things out,” said Yzerman. “I have an idea of what I want to do and a plan for what I want to do and I’m trying to get that done as quickly as possible.”
While it’s just speculation, the buzz is that the decision could be down to Syracuse Crunch head coach Jon Cooper (Lightning farm team) or former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff.
“There’s a certain type of play, a certain style of play that I’m expecting from our team, with the type of players we’re putting out there,” said Yzerman. “Guy Boucher did a tremendous job, he worked extremely hard. I take full responsibility for this, I have to make some decisions.
“I need to see some things change.”
Yzerman wouldn’t say if prior NHL experience was a prerequisite.
“I’d prefer to stay away from even discussing the candidates,” said Yzerman. “For whoever may be sitting out there, it’s discomforting for them, unnerving for them. I know what I want and I will try to get that done as quickly as possible.”
Lightning players Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis both spoke with reporters as well.
“Obviously, you never want to see that happen, you never want to see someone lose their job,” said Stamkos. “(Boucher) is probably the hardest working coach I’ve had, with regards to how much he puts into preparation, trying to help the guys get ready for games.
“A couple years ago, we had that great run (to the Eastern Conference final) and the expectations were set after that. When you go on a run like that, the next year, the bar has been set. Our team, not just our coaching staff, but our whole team, didn’t live up to those. Another year of struggling right now and something has to be done, that’s just the nature of the game, the business side of it. As players, it’s tough but you wish Guy the best of luck. We have to find a way to push through it.”
Both Stamkos and St. Louis dismissed the notion that a fresh voice was needed behind the bench or that the players had tuned Boucher out.
“I don’t think it was anything like that,” said Stamkos. “You hear a lot about guys not responding to coaches and stuff like that, I don’t think that was the case. This game and this league is all about wins and when things aren’t going well, it’s tough. You can’t fire all the players. It has to go on someone’s hands.
“The last couple weeks were frustrating, we’re not going to say it was fun losing. It wasn’t. With injuries and everything that was going on, it was a tough situation for everyone. The change has been made and you have to respect your general manager’s decision. As a players, you have to respond to whatever happens in the upcoming days and it starts tonight.”
It most certainly does.
Here’s how we expect both teams to start, but please note much is up in the air with the Lightning coaching change and the fact the Jets didn’t have a full roster out for morning skate:
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Antti Miettinen
Eric Tangradi, Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood
Patrice Cormier, Alex Burmistrov, Chris Thorburn
Toby Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien
Grant Clitsome, Zach Bogosian
Derek Meech, Paul Postma
Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)
Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis
Dana Tyrell, Nate Thompson, Teddy Purcell
Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Tom Pyatt, Cory Conacher
Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik
Victor Hedman, Sami Salo
Matt Carle, Eric Brewer
Keith Aulie, Radko Gudas
Cedrick Desjardins (Mathieu Garon)