WINNIPEG, Manitoba — If the Winnipeg Jets are going to take a run at first place in the NHL’s Central Division, they’re going to have to do it without their best defenseman.
Jacob Trouba, who has formed part of the Jets’ top pairing this season, injured his ankle in overtime during the team’s 4-3 shootout loss to Anaheim last Thursday. It wasn’t obvious to onlookers just when the injury occurred, except that it was during a two-and-a-half minute shift when the Jets were hemmed in their own zone.
“He’s playing right at his peak,” Jets coach Paul Maurice told The Winnipeg Sun. “His game in Anaheim was outstanding. He was really good. We’re going to miss him, there’s no doubt about it, but we have some personnel here who can pick up the slack.”
Trouba is second among the Jets in ice time with an average of 22:09 per game, much of it against the opposition’s No. 1 line and on the penalty kill. The good news is that both Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers will be able to fill much of the void on the right side, Maurice said.
When Winnipeg is healthy, talk of a possible Stanley Cup matchup against Tuesday’s opponent — the Tampa Bay Lightning — isn’t far-fetched. The Lightning are first in the NHL with 71 points and are riding yet another three-game winning streak. They have also won four consecutive contests in Winnipeg, outscoring the Jets 16-8.
Tampa hosted the All-Star Game, skills competition and assorted other events on the weekend, and was represented by forwards Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. (The Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler and goalie Connor Hellebuyck were also there.)
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, who was behind the Atlantic Division bench, told The Tampa Bay Times he felt like a “proud dad” watching over four of his charges.
“I know the fans were probably wanting to see it. It was four deserving guys. It’s an honor to be elected to the All-Star Game but to be able to be elected the year you’re hosting it is a little storybook for them,” he said.
Defenseman Victor Hedman, who suffered a lower-body injury on Jan. 11, is traveling with the team although it’s expected he won’t return to the lineup until later in the four-game Western Canadian road trip.
News of Trouba’s injury overshadowed the news during the All-Star break that the Jets would play a pair of games in Finland next season against the Florida Panthers.
It’s not all bad news on the Jets’ injury front, however. Center Mark Scheifele, who has been out since Dec. 27 and has missed 12 games with a shoulder injury, skated in a non-contact jersey for the second consecutive day on Monday and could return in a couple of weeks, according to coach Paul Maurice.
Center Adam Lowry, who has missed eight games with an upper-body injury, skated on the third line in practice on Tuesday and is “probable” for Tuesday night, the first of a 10-game homestand.
Michael Hutchinson, who has spent most of the season in the minors with the Manitoba Moose and played in the AHL All-Star game in Utica, N.Y., on Monday night, is scheduled to make his first NHL start of the season on Tuesday. He’s stepping in for Steve Mason, who is out with his second concussion of the season.