We now interrupt the Winnipeg Jets exciting playoff push for a story that warrants moving it back for at least a matter of moments.
Although we’ll quickly shift the focus to this afternoon’s pressure-packed tilt with the New York Islanders (2 pm) to close out a six-game homestand at MTS Centre, the return of Zach Redmond deserves to get its due this morning.
The amazing comeback of the second-year pro has been well-documented but Friday was another chapter as the Jets’ rookie played his first game since the scary skate-cut incident that severed his femoral artery in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 21, suiting up on a conditioning assignment with the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League.
Redmond was in the starting lineup and picked up an assist in a 4-1 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum.
I spoke with IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge this morning and he was thoroughly impressed by Redmond’s performance, noting that by the third period he looked to be back to where he was before his recall to the Jets.
Redmond skated well, made smart decisions and even saw time on the IceCaps power play, finishing with 16:58 of ice time and three shots on goal.
McCambridge said Redmond had some general soreness today and won’t play this afternoon against the Toronto Marlies, but the plan is for him to suit up again on Sunday in the IceCaps regular season finale.
Redmond will rejoin the Jets early next week.
Whether or not he plays another NHL game this season remains to be soon.
But the best news is that Redmond has taken another step in the process to resuming his NHL career, which is absolutely incredible when you think about what he went through since teammate Antti Miettinen accidentally stepped on him late in that morning skate two months ago.
Friday also marked the debut of Jets goalie prospect Juho Olkinuora, who was signed as a free agent earlier this month.
McCambridge said Olkinuora the first goal he gave up was one he’d like back, but the youngster responded by making a couple of big saves right after it, something that impressed the IceCaps’ head coach.
Olkinuora turned aside 22 of 25 shots (the Bulldogs fourth goal went into an empty net).
Back to the game at hand, after playing against teams that were below them through the first five games of this homestand, the Jets are in for another big test with the Islanders coming to town.
John Tavares in a legit MVP candidate and it will be very interesting to see how Zach Bogosian and perhaps Grant Clitsome match up against the line with Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes.
The Islanders are a fast team and another guy to watch for this afternoon is Kyle Okposo, who didn’t have a point in the last meeting but was a physical force and created plenty of opportunities.
Speaking of physical force, will Dustin Byfuglien bring the physical edge he played with on Thursday? You can bet Jets head coach Claude Noel is hoping so. When Byfuglien adds the checking element to his skill set, he becomes even more dangerous.
Can the Jets top trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler (30 points during past five games), continue their offensive dominance? And can the Jets get some secondary scoring from the other three lines?
Remember, it was the Jets D corps that produced three of four goals in Thursday’s OT win over the Hurricanes (Bogosian, Paul Postma and Byfuglien with the GWG).
The Jets lost to backup Kevin Poulin in the last meeting, but we expect they’ll face starter Evgeni Nabokov this afternoon and he’s been playing great.
Getting ready for the CJOB pre-game show, so that’s about it for now.
Be sure to join our live blog at 1:30 and look for comprehensive coverage in Sunday’s paper and at www.winnipegsun.com later this afternoon.
Enjoy the game.
Here’s the updated playoff box (going into Saturday’s action):
*3. Washington Capitals (50 pts, 4 GR) — HOME (3): Winnipeg, Ottawa, Boston; AWAY (1): Montreal
6. Ottawa Senators (52 points, 5 GR) — HOME (3): Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. AWAY (2): Boston, Washington.
7. New York Islanders (51 pts, 4 GR) — HOME (0); AWAY (4): Winnipeg, Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo
8. New York Rangers (50 pts, 4 GR) — HOME (2): New Jersey, New Jersey; AWAY (2): Florida, Carolina
*9. Winnipeg (48 pts, 4 GR) — HOME (2): New York Islanders, Montreal; AWAY (2): Buffalo, Washington
11. New Jersey (42 pts, 5 GR) — HOME (3): Florida, Montreal, Pittsburgh; AWAY (2): New York Rangers, New York Rangers
Eliminated from playoff contention: Philadelphia, Buffalo, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida
* Southeast Division teams
And lastly, here’s how we expect both teams to start this afternoon:
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen, Kyle Wellwood
Eric Tangradi, Alex Burmistrov, Mike Santorelli
James Wright, Aaron Gagnon, Chris Thorburn
Grant Clitsome, Zach Bogosian,
Ron Hainsey, Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart, Paul Postma
Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)
Matt Moulson, John Tavares, Brad Boyes
Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner, Keith Aucoin, Colin McDonald
Jesse Joensuu, Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin
Thomas Hickey, Lubomir Visnovsky
Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic
Mark Streit, Matt Carkner
Evgeni Nabokov (Kevin Poulin)