Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel gave a direct response when asked about the status of D-man Toby Enstrom this morning.
Enstrom, who is dealing with a back injury, is out and he’ll be replaced (as expected) by Paul Postma when the Jets continue their six-game homestand against the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m. at MTS Centre.
“No, (Enstrom) didn’t skate before the group today. He will not be in the game,” said Noel, before I followed up to ask what he’d be looking for from Postma in his return to the lineup. “Just an A-game if he goes in. I just want him or anybody who goes in, to play well. We’re in it to win, we’re not in development-mode right now. We’re trying to win games.
“(Postma) has been pretty good for us. He certainly doesn’t make me nervous. I’m pretty comfortable with him.”
Postma will be used on the third pairing with Mark Stuart, as Grant Clitsome moves back up to play with Dustin Byfuglien.
Jets centre Bryan Little declared himself good to go after taking a puck in the knuckle the other day, but joked that he didn’t think he would be taking draws even if he was 100% healthy.
“Last game (Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler) were both good in the face-off circle, so they both want to jump in there,” said Little.
This will mark the final meeting between the two teams as Southeast Division rivals, a fact that wasn’t lost on Panthers D-man Brian Campbell, who said he was sorry to see the Jets leaving the division next season, given the success they’ve enjoyed against them the past two seasons.
Although the Panthers remain at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve been playing very well of late, winning four of the past five games.
“They’re a team that works really hard, if you don’t show up and match their compete level, then you’re going to be in trouble,” said Ladd.
Although the Jets have won two of the four meetings, the Panthers picked up two additional points by getting to extra time.
“It’s a good match-up, the games have always been good, entertaining,” said Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen. “We won’t see as much of each other next year, but it’s always been a good match-up for us, going back the last two years. In saying that, every game has had its own personality to it and I would expect nothing different tonight.
“We’ve certainly sent out the beware sign for our boys, because you know they’ll be flying here.”
One guy who is sure to have a little extra jump in his step is Oakbank product Quinton Howden, who has played 10 games for the Panthers this season as a rookie and is thrilled about suiting up for his first NHL game in his home province.
“It’s been awesome to be able to come home and see some friends and family for a day and to be able to play in front of all of them,” said Howden, who figures to be on the hook for more than 20 tickets for friends and family members. “I’m just trying to keep things simple. You’ve got to earn your spot here. I’ve got the opportunity to play and I’m doing the things that got me here, using my speed and stuff. Those are the things that have definitely worked for me.”
Howden, a first round pick (25th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, has no points in 10 games this season after appearing in 41 games with the San Antonio Rampage (nine goals, 19 points) during the lockout.
The Panthers continue to be led in scoring by rookie forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who has 13 goals and 27 points in 39 games.
“He’s had a really strong year,” said Dineen. “There have been some dips as far as his energy and being able to play consistently during the craziness of this schedule. There’s been a lot of games and a lot of travel. There are some nights when it does catch up with you, but in saying that, he also has a flash every game that makes you go ‘Wow.’
“He’s really responsible, he’s been a good teammate and he works extremely hard every day. Everything advertised and a little bit more.”
This is a rare one-game road trip that saw the Panthers take the long flight from Florida to Winnipeg before returning home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
The goaltending match-up pits Ondrej Pavelec and youngster Jacob Markstrom.
Here’s how we expect both teams to start on Thursday:
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Kyle Wellwood
Eric Tangradi, Alex Burmistrov, Mike Santorelli
James Wright, Aaron Gagnon, Chris Thorburn
Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian
Grant Clitsome, Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart, Paul Postma
Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)
Jonathan Huberdeau, Shawn Matthias, Jack Skille
Tomas Fleischmann, Marcel Goc, Tomas Kopecky
Scottie Upshall, Nick Bjugstad, Greg Rallo
Quinton Howden, Drew Shore, George Parros
Brian Campbell, Tyson Strachan
Filip Kuba, Erik Gudbranson
T.J. Brennan, Dmitry Kulikov
Jacob Markstrom (Scott Clemmensen)