Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel sees it as a perfect opportunity to get a clean two points from a conference rival.
The New Jersey Devils visit MTS Centre tonight (6 p.m., CBC), less than 24 hours after they lost to the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul, Minn., Friday night.
The Devils (12-11-1) are just one point ahead of the Jets (10-11-4) and should be the more tired team, playing on back-to-back nights, whereas Winnipeg last played Thursday night (a 1-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes).
“There’s a couple of things that are important in this game,” Noel said after the gameday skate Saturday morning at MTS Centre. “How well we start is one of them. They lost a tough one Friday night and (goalie Martin) Brodeur got pulled in the game, which is uncharacteristic.
“The other thing that’s important for us is a clean two points. I can’t state that enough. This is a team in our conference and we have to be able to win in regulation. If we can do that again tonight and play well, it would be nice to go into a day off on Sunday feeling good about things. That would be a really big step for us.”
The Devils lost 4-2 to the Wild, with future Hall of Famer Brodeur giving up three goals on just four shots before getting yanked 8:17 into the first period.
Backup goalie Johan Hedberg, who played for the Manitoba Moose and the Atlanta Thrashers during his career, is expected to get the start tonight, though Brodeur’s short outing Friday could mean a change of plans.
Jets forward Kyle Wellwood says the home team needs to take full advantage of the fact the visitors played the night before.
“It’s hard being the road team, playing back to back nights,” Wellwood said. “We’ve had to do it and we haven’t won our games. It’s certainly a challenge and tonight we want to play with that energy and let that be the story.
“It’s not just the start, it’s having your speed and energy be there so that it’s going to be an advantage throughout the game. It’s one of those games on the schedule where you should have the advantage.”
The Jets lost 3-2 in overtime the only other time these teams met up last month in New Jersey.
Forward Adam Henrique scored a pair of goals that night, including one in overtime.
Tonight, the Devils will have their most dynamic player in the lineup, which was not the case, back on Nov. 5.
“They’re a good team … they obviously have some very good players, like (Ilya) Kovalchuk,” Jets forward Tim Stapleton said. “They’re well coached and they’re very disciplined and they stick to their game plan.
“They’re a patient team so we’ve just got to be patient back and not get frustrated and just not let them capitalize on our mistakes. Kovalchuk is someone you’ve got to shut down. He’s one of the best players in the world so you’ve just got to do everything you can to contain him and not let him have a good night.”
While the Devils have some other top forwards like Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, Kovalchuk has the most obvious game-breaker quality.
“If Kovalchuk plays his ‘A’ game and brings it up to the table, you’re going to see what makes him special,” Noel said. “He can play both sides of that too. He can be an average player who doesn’t defend and he can be a player who can really dominate games.
“When he was on his ‘A’ game a few years ago, there was nobody who could handle him.”
Kovalchuk hasn’t been on his ‘A’ game much this season. He has six goals and 15 points in 19 games and is minus-9.
Still, the Jets know they have to worry about him, but Noel believes his strong-skating, big-bodied defencemen will be able to handle him.
“Buff (Dustin Byfuglien) would be able to handle him. Buff and (Zach) Bogosian. They can skate and they can handle weight. Same with (Mark) Stuart to a degree and (Johnny) Oduya. It depends on Kovalchuk. If he plays that speed game with power, you’d have your hands full.”
Noel said the Jets would go with the same lineup that dressed for Thursday’s win over Phoenix.
That means C Nik Antropov and RW Eric Fehr remain out with injuries, while Stapleton and RW Carl Klingberg will dress.
Ondrej Pavelec is expected to get the start in goal.