WINNIPEG â€” The Winnipeg Jets will be dealing with distractions as they embark on a four-game road trip that has the potential to make or break their season.
Winnipeg halted a four-game losing skid with Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Dallas, a victory highlighted by rookie winger Patrik Laine’s third hat trick of the season. Entering Wednesday’s games, the Jets (26-29-4) were four points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“There’s probably two teams in the entire league that are really out of it,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday as the team packed its bags. “Everybody else is right there so every single game becomes that playoff game.”
Winnipeg’s upcoming road contests will be played amid attention-grabbing storylines. First up is Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh, where Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is on the verge of recording his 1,000th career point.
It’s then on to Montreal for a Saturday matinee, the first game for the Canadiens under new head coach Claude Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien this week.
“I wish we weren’t going in on first game,” Maurice said with a smile. “Wish it was second or third or maybe the last one is always the best one to go in before a guy gets fired.”
On Sunday night, the Jets will take on the Ottawa Senators before the trip wraps up with a rookie showcase Tuesday in Toronto. Laine and Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are duelling for rookie goal scoring and points supremacy.
“We’ve got too much on our plate right now to spend a whole lot of time talking about those things,” Maurice said of the various storylines.
“You know they’re going to be all wrapped up and (Crosby is) probably going to get it. He can get his 1,000th point and that’s fine. We just need to win this game.”
Entering play Wednesday, Marner led league rookies with 48 points in 55 games, including 15 goals. Laine has 26 goals and 47 points in 51 games, while Matthews has netted 27 goals and 46 points in 55 games.
“It’s going to be a sideshow, there’s no fixing that,” Maurice said.
He doesn’t think he’ll have to settle Laine down before the spotlight shines on the young stars.
“This guy for 18 (years old) is rock-solid mature,” Maurice said. “I’d like him to play the game he played (Tuesday) night, goals aside, and then we’d be really proud of where he’s at.”
He noted that Laine played a physical game and his positional play was solid.
Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who assisted on each of Laine’s three goals, notched his team-leading 56th point in his 56th game.
“It was a big win for us,” Scheifele said. “I think it’s hopefully a good starting point on making a run here.”
Rookie defenceman Josh Morrissey said the road trip is filled with meaningful games and he relishes the challenge of going up against elite players such as Crosby.
“You see Pittsburgh coming up here that’s been the Stanley Cup champion last year and a top-notch team,” Morrissey said. “And then the Canadian cities, which is always fun. So it’s a big road trip for us, but I think we’re looking forward to it.”
The Jets will leave behind forward Andrew Copp, who suffered an upper-body injury against Dallas. Veteran defenceman Toby Enstrom (lower body) also remains at home.
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who was hurt Feb. 7 (lower body), and forward Marko Dano are making the trip, Maurice said.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press