The Winnipeg Jets begin a three-game California road trip on Tuesday night in Anaheim against a Ducks team they’ll be opposing for the third time in two weeks.
The Jets opened the season with a 4-1 loss at Anaheim on Oct. 13 but evened the series against the Ducks with a 5-1 home victory on Thursday night.
It was a few hours before the latter contest that Winnipeg found out center Mark Scheifele had tested positive for COVID-19 and would join linemate and team captain Blake Wheeler, who tested positive on Oct. 18 and was in isolation, on the sidelines.
Despite missing two-thirds of their top line, the Jets still managed to score 11 goals in back-to-back home wins over Anaheim and the Saturday against the Nashville Predators (6-4).
Kyle Connor, the lone remaining member of the first line, garnered NHL First Star of the Week honors on Monday after scoring eight points (five goals, three assists) in three games, including a pair of third-period goals on Thursday vs. the Ducks.
“The last couple of games I think our whole team needed to step up,” Connor said Monday before boarding a plane for Southern California. “You lose your captain, lose your leading scorer (Scheifele) for the last couple of years, we’re going to need our whole team to step up, and I think that was kind of our whole mentality.”
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said there was no timetable for when his star duo would return.
“They’re not starting the trip with us,” Maurice said. “I think almost the best way to think about it is it’s almost like concussion protocol. A bunch of steps have to get passed before you get back on the ice. You can’t really update those.
“You just wait until they hit the mile-markers. They could be back playing 22 minutes the first day they’re available, you just don’t know. It’s the same idea. They’ll be in the lineup the day the doctors tell me they can be in the lineup and I’ll assume they’re ready to go.”
Winnipeg is 0-2-1 on the road this season. The Jets also play at Los Angeles on Thursday and at San Jose on Saturday.
“This a big trip for us,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt, who had three assists Saturday against the Predators. “This is a trip that sets you in the right direction as a group. And then when you come back home from this, hopefully we’re coming back home with a head of steam.”
Anaheim comes in off a 4-3 overtime loss at Minnesota on Saturday. The Wild’s Ryan Hartman scored the winner with 12.1 seconds remaining in OT.
“This game could have gone either way,” said forward Rickard Rakell, who scored two goals for the Ducks. “So it’s a little bit disappointing because I thought everyone played a really hard game, gave them a good fight.”
Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins said, “We’re past the point of, ‘Hey we played hard and got a point,’ and to be happy with that. That was last year. This year there’s just a different feeling around the team that we believe that we can, if we play the right way, that we can play with anybody and not only play with them, but win the game.”
–Field Level Media