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ST. LOUIS — We know they look good on paper. Now it’s time to see how the 2018-19 version of the Winnipeg Jets look on the ice.
The puck drops tonight on a new season filled with major expectations for the NHL team that faces a tough test right out of the gate — playing a familiar Central Division foe in enemy territory.
“It’s exciting, obviously, opening day for us. You know, you work hard in training camp and all throughout the summer and now we’re here,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said following Thursday’s morning skate at Enterprise Center in downtown St. Louis.
“I think it’s just about getting into the routine right away, trying to get back into what you do on the road, how you nap, pre-game meal and all those things. Once you get into the game, just a shift at a time, make an easy play, something simple to get yourself into and start rolling from there.”
Winnipeg has been touted as one of the pre-season Stanley Cup favourites following last year’s 52-20-10 regular-season and run to the Western Conference final. The Blues missed out on the playoffs by a single point but added several new pieces this summer.
“You always get the nerves. I do, anyway. It always feels like it’s the first one. I usually use that nervousness to give me that energy that I’ll get on the ice, which is usually a good feeling,” said veteran forward Mathieu Perreault.
Connor Hellebuyck gets the start in goal for the Jets, the first of what is expected to be more than 60 games for the Vezina Trophy finalist.
Kristian Vesalainen will make his NHL debut playing on a line with Jack Roslovic and Nikolaj Ehlers. The other lines are as they’ve been through much of the pre-season — Blake Wheeler with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, Bryan Little with Patrik Laine and Perreault, and Adam Lowry between Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev.
Marko Dano and Brendan Lemieux will be the healthy scratches up front.
On the blue-line, Morrissey is in his usual shutdown pairing with Jacob Trouba; Dustin Byfuglien skates with Ben Chiarot; and Tyler Myers is paired with Joe Morrow.
That leaves veteran Dmitry Kulikov as the expected scratch.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said managing expectations and not allowing his team to get ahead of itself will be a challenge.
“We knew that all summer, that it would be our challenge. The ease of the game of hockey, there just isn’t any. But mathematically, there can’t be that many contenders, can there? And if there are, then there’s no difference. If there are this many good teams – and there are – then nobody has the edge,” said Maurice.
“I don’t think there’s an edge, there’s too many good teams. And the one’s that are building – Vancouver was going to have a tough year, until last night happened. Everybody is tough to beat. There is nothing easy. So that would be the challenge, handling that word easy.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.