JGD 64: Jets Return Following Bye Week

After a week of either lounging in the sun or resting up injuries, the Winnipeg Jets return to action with a difficult test as the leaders in the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild pay a visit to the MTS Centre. The Jets are 0-3 against the Wild this season and are the only team in the Central Division the Jets haven’t defeated as of yet. 

Lineups:

Winnipeg (28-29-6)

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Could this be Drew Stafford’s last game as a Winnipeg Jet? The veteran forward has been the subject of trade rumours and with the trade deadline set for Wednesday, those rumblings will remain warm. Stafford is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and with the Jets playoff hopes fading, a deal could happen. 

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Jacob Trouba’s suspension ends after this game but that still leaves a huge void on the blueline. Julian Melchiori has been called up from the Manitoba Moose as an emergency. Most likely, Mark Stuart will slot into the lineup in place of Trouba.

Toby Enstrom returns after missing two weeks of action following a lower body injury. Enstrom’s return gives Paul Maurice a bit more flexibility with the defence pairings. Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien are likely to see heavy minutes against the Wild.

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Ondrej Pavelec returned to practice on Monday after suffering a concussion the last time the Jets faced the Wild on February 7. While it is likely that Connor Hellebuyck will get the start, Pavelec’s return to game action seems imminent. This despite the fact that the veteran keeper has a subpar .888 save percentage this season and has produced below average numbers in his career. 

Minnesota (39-14-6)

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The mumps have hit Minnesota. Zach Parise and Jason Pominville have been diagnosed with the contagious disease and each will miss at least three games. 

While their absence will be felt, the Wild are hoping newly acquired Martin Hanzal can fill the void. Hanzal came over from the Arizona Coyotes in a trade to bolster the Wild lineup in time for the playoffs. Minnesota is going for it all this year and they’re hoping Hanzal is an elusive piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle.

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Not many talk about Jared Spurgeon but the diminutive defenceman is quietly having a decent season. He sees big minutes, usually against the other team’s top lines and can handle the physicality, despite his 5-9, 165 pound frame. He’s under-appreciated outside the State of Hockey but his coaches and teammates are well aware of his contributions.

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The Jets may catch a break here. Devan Dubnyk was in goal in Minnesota’s overtime victory over Los Angeles last night, which means backup Darcy Kuemper could get the call for tonight’s game. Dubnyk is having a sensational season for the Wild as his .933 save percentage proves. Kuemper, a Saskatoon native, has only appeared in 13 games this season and has a .910 save percentage. Will head coach Bruce Boudreau gamble and give Dubnyk a second consecutive start on a back-to-back, or does he rest his ace and give the backup some crease time?

Predictions:

Game Prediction: The Jets seem to do better when I pick them to lose. So I say the Wild win 4-3 in overtime.

Obvious Prediction: Expect a chippy affair between these divisional rivals as there’s not much love between these two foes.

Not So Obvious Prediction: Someone other than Drew Stafford will be traded by the Jets. Not sure who but we’ll let you speculate.