The Winnipeg Jets had a different look to two of their current top three lines during Monday’s practice.
That was due to the absence of center Mark Scheifele and forward Paul Stastny, who were both injured during the third period of Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the NY Islanders.
That defeat ended the Jets 4-0 start to the season on home ice, and also put an end to an impressive eight game points streak of 6-0-2 that began with a 6-5 overtime loss at Minnesota on Oct. 19.
But following the workout, Head Coach Paul Maurice was optimistic one, or both will be able to play when the Jets host Central Division rival St. Louis on Tuesday Night (7 p.m.) at Canada Life Centre.
“We’ll check on both of them, won’t rule them out,” said Maurice when asked for a status update on Scheifele and Stastny. “We’ll give them a morning skate. And they’d get healing over a 24 hour period. If they continue that, it’s possible. We’ll see.”
Stastny took a point shot from teammate Neal Pionk off the ankle or foot in Saturday’s loss to the Isles while Scheifele appeared to be in distress with a charley horse-type injury while skating awkwardly back to the bench — also in the third period of Saturday’s game.
During Monday’s practice, Maurice had Jansen Harkins taking Stastny’s place on the left side on a line with Andrew Copp and Nikolaj Ehlers. Riley Nash, a healthy scratch for the last four games, skated between Adam Lowry and Blake Wheeler.
Maurice said the idea to keep Lowry at left wing rather than in the middle was based on the expectation Scheifele will be good to go for Tuesday night. “And I give Adam more time on the left wing,” explained the Jets bench boss. “I know he (Lowry) can play center, but we put Riley there — and Riley’s a right hand shot.”
Maurice said if he knew for sure Scheifele would not be playing on Tuesday, he would have moved Lowry back to center for practice, and hinted there could be some shuffling of personnel with those top two lines IF his star center were to miss his seventh game in 12 starts this season.
“If we got here tomorrow morning and neither of those guys were out (on the ice) you’ll see a different set up,” he said.
Scheifele, who has three assists in the five games he has played this season, had just returned to action last Tuesday against Dallas after missing the previous five games in NHL COVID protocol and scored the winning goal in the 4-3 shootout victory over the Stars.
Stastny has 4-4-8 in 11 games and was also being used on the second powerplay unit as well as in a penalty killing role. So his potential absence, as well as Scheifele’s, would result in a number of changes for the game versus the 7-2-1 Blues who fell out of top spot in the Central Division following a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Sunday.
On the positive side of the ledger, number one goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was back at practice on Monday for the first time in more than a week after missing the first three games of the homestand following the birth of his son, Hugh Joseph, and then coming down with a non-COVID illness.
“There is no way I could have played through what I had,” said Hellebuyck after Monday’s practice. “It was definitely strange. I don’t know how I got it, but it is what it is.”
And what it was while Hellebuyck was recovering, was a rock-solid three consecutive starts by backup Eric Comrie, who went 2-1 and allowed just six goals while stopping just over 92 per cent of the 76 shots he faced.
Hellebuyck is confident he can step back in and provide that same level of netminding after going 3-0-1 with a 2.49 goals against average and .929 saves percentage in his four starts prior to last week.
“There’s definitely going to be a little bit of a reset but I felt good on the ice today and it’s just about getting mentally up to speed,” said the 2019-20 Vezina Trophy winner, who also shared that his baby boy slept great the night before. “The structure’s there and now it’s just about getting my reads back and making sure I’m doing things as quickly as I possibly can.”
And the challenge for his teammates will be to make the necessary changes to their game to provide a better outcome than Saturday’s shutout loss — against an equally as difficult opponent as the Islanders were.
“It’s very similar to the style, you see a shift from regular season- trade deadline kinda ramps up — and then obviously playoffs,” said Jets scoring leader Kyle Connor after being asked if playing a game like Saturday’s was beneficial this early in the schedule. “That was similar to a playoff game, in a sense, where there were very few chances, and when you get ’em you gotta make sure you capitalize.”