Jets, Canucks look to get on winning track (Dec 20, 2016)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets have no scores to settle yet this National Hockey League season.

But that situation will change this week as the teams play a rare doubleheader in Vancouver with the first game going Tuesday night at Rogers Arena. Both the Canucks (13-16-2-1) and Jets (15-16-2-1) are looking to win more consistently as they play their final two games below the Christmas break.

The Canucks, struggling to rebuild on the fly, have only won four of their past 10 games while the Jets, who appear to be a much tougher and more talented team have five wins and as many losses during the same span.

“We know what it takes,” said Vancouver winger Jannik Hansen. “We need to string some wins together. We had an opportunity (Sunday in a 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus.) We are going to get another opportunity on Tuesday. That’s what we need. We are playing good hockey now, consistently well. It’s the end result that has to come as well.”

The Canucks have picked up their play markedly since losing nine straight earlier in the season. But they are battling injuries on the back end with Alex Edler (finger) continuing an extended absence and Erik Gudbranson, who has missed the last two games, also due to be out on a long-term basis due to a wrist problem that made surgery necessary.

Although center Brandon Sutter is on a three-game scoring streak, the Jets will not have to worry about many obvious scoring threats. However, the Canucks are clear on who they want to hold in check.

Jets rookie Patrik Laine ranks among the league’s top scorers with 18 goals. He is also coming off a three-point game following Sunday’s victory over Colorado, when he had a goal and two assists.

“He’s a strong player,” said Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. “He’s not afraid to shoot the puck. He has some confidence and seems to slow the play down just a little bit to give himself some space. A lot like (Sunday) we are going to have to be skating, chip some pucks, make him go a long way. Maybe get their team a little frustrated. That seems to be the game plan most nights.”

The Jets, who also boast sharpshooters Mark Sheifele, who has 14 goals and 30 points, and Blake Wheeler (24 points) can ease some frustration by moving above .500 with a win Tuesday and another Thursday, when the mini-series concludes.

“We kinda limped into the mini-break we had there, got some rest here at home and took care of business,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler told reporters following Sunday’s win over Colorado. “We had to get back on track. It was two huge games here at home, two huge games in Vancouver now and we want to go into this break feeling good about ourselves.”

The Jets are also feeling better physically. Former Canucks Shawn Matthias and fellow forwards participated in Monday’s practice after being absent due to injuries. Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice told reporters that at least one of the three would play in Vancouver.

But one player’s status remains in limbo even though he is healthy. Center Alexander Burmistov has been a healthy scratch for the last five games and has suited up for only three of the last 12 contests after falling out of favor with Maurice.

“You know, I feel great, working hard — watching games,” said Burmistrov, who has only two assists in 23 games this season and is a minus-six, told the Winnipeg Free Press. “It’s tough, tough for me because I do not know why I’m not playing, you know. I never have a conversation with the coach, so he never (told) me why I’m not playing.”

Maurice begged to differ, contending that he has spoken frequently to Burmistov, who returned to the Jets this season after leaving the team following the 2012-13 campaign for the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.

All other Jets have been getting plenty of rest lately after starting the season with 32 games in 60 days. The Jets had three days between games last week before getting two days off prior to Sunday’s contest, and they will have had another two-day break before Tuesday’s opening faceoff.

“Physically we are quite a bit stronger and when you are a little better rested you can stop and start and win battles,” said Maurice.

He will soon find out whether that applies to a pair of battles against the same team in Vancouver.