Jets hope Stafford helps fill void of Laine vs. Habs
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Winnipeg Jets are hoping they can continue scoring by committee until their top sniper returns to the line-up.
The Jets used goals by defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and right winger Blake Wheeler to defeat the Calgary Flames 2-0 at the MTS Centre on Monday night, but other players are hoping to step up into the void left by Patrik Laine’s concussion when they challenge the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.
The 18-year-old rookie, who has 21 goals this season, has been off the ice since being rocked by an open-ice hit from Buffalo’s Jake McCabe on the weekend.
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Drew Stafford, who moved up from the fourth line into Laine’s spot alongside left winger Nik Ehlers and center Mark Scheifele, is planning to carry at least his share of the load. The Milwaukee native scored 21 for the Jets last year and notched 31 in the 2010-11 season. He has bulged the twine just three times this season, although he did miss 15 games due to injury.
“This is something I’ve been doing my whole career,” the 31-year-old told the Winnipeg Free Press. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity and will do my best to help this team in whatever way I can and contribute and help win games. If that’s playing there and hopefully providing some offence, it’s something I look forward to and relish the opportunity.”
Stafford assisted on Byfuglien’s goal on Monday night.
Even though Laine wasn’t on the ice yesterday, he did generate some headlines with news that he has been selected to play in the NHL all-star game later this month in Los Angeles. The Jets have not set any timetable for his return but he has been spotted in civvies and smiling during practices. He watched the Calgary game from the press box with his girlfriend.
The Canadiens canceled practice Tuesday morning following their 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals the night before. The Habs will be well-represented in Los Angeles with coach Michel Therrien, defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Carey Price selected for the mid-season festivities.
The netminder, who backstopped Canada to victory in the World Cup in the fall and the 2014 Olympics, hasn’t displayed his all-world form lately, allowing three or more goals in five of his last six starts.
The Canadiens have a 1-2-2 record in those five games and while his overall record remains stellar at 20-6-4, he is ranked fifth in the NHL in save percentage (.928) and sixth in goals-against average (2.12).
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Price wouldn’t set the hockey world on fire this year considering he missed almost all of last season with a serious knee injury.
The Habs were tearing up the league when Price went down in late November immediately went into free-fall, missing the playoffs.
Therrien said even if Price doesn’t play out of his mind this year, he expects his troops to be better equipped to weather any storms.
“Big difference (from last year),” the coach told the Montreal Gazette. “First of all, I’ll say the leadership group is doing a fantastic job. Kids are coming into a really different atmosphere. The team spirit has been great since Day 1 and the leadership group is doing a fantastic job.”
The Canadiens will fly out immediately after Wednesday’s game in advance of meeting the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. It’s expected Al Montoya, who played two seasons with the Jets from 2012-14, will start one of those games.