Jets face Coyotes to open stretch drive

- February 27th, 2014

Game on.

The Winnipeg Jets face the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at MTS Centre as the stretch drive officially heats up.

There was a bit of news on the lineup front, as veteran Jim Slater slid back into the middle of the fourth line this morning with Chris Thorburn and James Wright.

Earlier this week, Jets head coach Paul Maurice had only committed to inserting Evander Kane into the lineup.

But with two more skates under his belt, Slater convinced him he was ready to go and to contribute.

For the record, I’m sure my lobbying in this space didn’t help and Maurice admitted that he wasn’t about to make a declaration on Tuesday, knowing that a setback or something unforeseen could occur before the decision actually had to be made.

“It’s my turn to come in here and show him what I’ve got. I don’t want to do anything too out of the ordinary for myself. My game is pretty basic,” said Slater, who has missed the past 52 games after recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Slater should immediately help the Jets in the face-off circle and his veteran presence should also help Maurice have a little more confidence to throw that fourth line out on the ice when the situation calls for it.

“Obviously, he’s big for us in the circle, penalty killing. He brings a lot of little intangibles that maybe people don’t notice. It will be good to have him back in the lineup,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd.

“We missed (Slater) a lot,” added Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. “He’s a guy that wins face-offs. He’s big on the penalty kill and anytime you have a centre like that you’re confident he’s going to win every draw, it changes the game. His presence in the locker room and his leadership is something we’ve missed as well.”

So Kane and Slater will be activated from IR, bringing the Jets back to the 23-man roster maximum and leaving Matt Halischuk on IR for the time being.

The Jets enter tonight’s action three points out of the final playoff spot in the West, thanks to the 1-0 win by the Vancouver Canucks over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.

The Jets are also two points behind the Coyotes, who hold two games in hand.

“It’s a big opportunity. We’ve put ourselves in a good position but we don’t want to waste it,” said Ladd. “We’re going to keep pushing, keep doing the right things.”

For the Coyoytes, centre Antoine Vermette has been holding the hot hand, picking up eight goals and 13 points while piling up a 10-game point streak.

Vermette was one of the Coyotes’ best players back on Jan. 13 when the Jets pumped the Coyotes 5-1.

Ondrej Pavelec gets the call in goal for the Jets, while the Coyotes counter with Mike Smith.

Pavelec said this morning he’s not worried about the outside noise about his level of play.

“I can’t control what the people talk about, I just focus on myself and how I play. That’s pretty much it,” said Pavelec, who isn’t lacking confidence despite an up-and-down Olympics. “Not for me. I just go step-by-step, game after game and we’ll see what happens.”

I’ve been saying for years that Pavelec is a better goalie than what is reflected in his numbers and as I wrote in my column, this is a big opportunity for him to show that during the stretch drive.

But like he suggests, we’ll see what happens.

Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Thursday:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Devin Setoguchi-Olli Jokinen-Dustin Byfuglien
James Wright-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn

Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Keaton Ellerby

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

Coyotes

Lauri Korpikoski-Antoine Vermette-Mikkel Boedker
Brandon McMillan-Mike Ribeiro-Shane Doan
Rob Klinkhammer-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Kyle Chipchura/Paul Bissonnette-Jeff Halpern-David Moss

Keith Yandle-Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Zbynek Michalek
David Schlemko-Michael Stone

Mike Smith (Thomas Greiss)

Categories: Hockey

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