|Jets, Stars square off yet again|
DALLAS -- The Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars haven't played one another in over three months, but these Central Division rivals head into Saturday night's game at American Airlines Center fresh off positive results in their most recent contests.
Dallas (35-22-4, 74 points) defeated the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 at Staples Center on Thursday, a nice bounce-back result after the Stars dropped their first two games of their California road trip by a combined score of 7-2 to San Jose on Sunday (5-2) and Anaheim on Wednesday (2-0).
"Well, we've played so well the last two nights, we needed to get rewarded," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said after Thursday's win. "As well as we played tonight (Thursday), we probably played better last night, and we needed to start seeing rewards for this good play."
The Stars did not practice Friday as they traveled back to Dallas, where they begin a five-game homestand against the Jets on Saturday.
Dallas is 21-9-1 at home and 10-10-0 against the rest of the Central.
Winnipeg (36-16-9, 81 points), who sits just ahead of Dallas in the division standings, has already beaten the Stars twice this season, 5-2 in Winnipeg on Nov. 2, 2017 and 4-1 in Dallas four days later.
Stars defenseman Greg Pateryn, who had a goal against the Kings on Thursday, feels a little payback might be in order this weekend.
"We definitely owe them," Pateryn said after Thursday's win in L.A. "I think everyone's looking forward to some rest (on Friday), but everyone's looking forward to that game too."
In that win against the Kings, Tyler Seguin had the other Dallas goal, giving him 30 for the season, which not only ties the perennial Stars All-Star for fifth in the NHL in goals, but gives him 30 tallies in four of his first five seasons in Dallas.
Ably supporting Seguin and Stars captain Jamie Benn this season on offense has been newcomer Alexander Radulov, who is tied for the team lead with 54 points.
However, for Hitchcock, in his second stint coaching the Stars after leading them to their only Stanley Cup win to date back in 1999, the recent showing of both Benn and Seguin is exactly what he likes to see this time of year.
"Both him (Seguin) and Jamie (Benn) are starting to take control of the hockey club," Hitchcock said. "They're taking control on the ice, they're taking control in the locker room and on the bench. That's good stuff, that's what we need. Your best players at this time of year have to be your best players. Every team's looking for that."
The Jets are on the tail end of a back-to-back after winning 4-0 at St. Louis on Friday night.
In that victory, which made Winnipeg 13-10-7 on the road and 10-6-2 against the rest of the Central, the Jets got two assists from Mark Scheifele, who has 13 assists and 25 points in 19 career games against Dallas, and a goal and an assist each from Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler.
"Yeah, it's huge, a huge two points, (against) a team that's trying to catch us in a contested division and conference. Every game is magnified now," Wheeler said.
Wheeler's assist on Connor's power-play goal late in the first period was his 53rd helper of the season, a career high for the veteran forward.
Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck turned away all 34 shots he faced against the Blues to earn his sixth shutout of the season, establishing an Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise record.
"We have a lot of goal scorers on our team and it was fun to watch them tonight," Hellebuyck said.
Jets coach Paul Maurice could return to Hellebuyck on Saturday in Dallas or could ask backup Michael Hutchinson, recently cleared after missing the previous six games with a concussion, to face the Stars in their own building.
Either way, Hellebuyck will support Maurice's decision.
"Yeah, I'll always be ready when my name's called. It's coach's decision and if he decides on another guy, I'll be there to support him," he said.
Saturday's game will conclude what is a quick two-game road trip for the Jets. And even for a team that has fared well away from Winnipeg this season, there are always areas of their game they can polish.
And Wheeler saw several such areas in Friday's game, even though it ended 4-0 in the Jets' favor.
"Just some of the little details when you play with a three-goal lead, a four-goal lead in the third period, I thought we took our foot off the gas a little bit," Wheeler said. "I thought we could have done a little more in the third."
But in the end, it's another road win for Winnipeg and two additional points.
"We're going to have to play some big games on the road down the stretch, so we're trying to work on that area of our game," Wheeler said.