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Kyle Connor, Nate Schmidt set to rejoin Jets as Wings visit

Sportsnaut
Mar 22, 2022; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN;  Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (81) looks to make a pass in the Vegas Golden Knights zone during the second period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Desperate for wins, the Winnipeg Jets will get some needed reinforcements to help the cause.

Leading scorer Kyle Connor and key defenseman Nate Schmidt are set to return from their COVID-19 layoffs when the Jets play host to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.

Sitting seven points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, Winnipeg (33-27-10, 76 points) has practically no room for error over its final 12 games. The Jets saw their situation worsen with a 7-3 road loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday and a 3-2 home setback against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, defeats that followed an 11-4-1 stretch.

The Jets played the past three games without Conner, who has posted career highs of 41 goals and 41 assists, and Schmidt, who has 31 points. Both had tested positive for COVID-19, but they were back at practice on Monday.

“We know exactly where we’re at,” interim Jets coach Dave Lowry said. “Bringing your leading goal-scorer back in your lineup and you bring a top-six defenseman back in your lineup, it’s going to give you energy and it’s going to give you a boost.

“They’ll help us find ways to win hockey games.”

Connor recorded eight goals and 12 assists during a 10-game point streak that ended in his most recent contest, Winnipeg’s 2-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on May 27. He has posted five goals and four assists in his past five games against the Red Wings.

He tallied a goal and an assist during the Jets’ 3-0 victory at Detroit on Jan. 13. Teammate Connor Hellebuyck stopped 33 shots in that contest for one of his four shutouts this season.

Hellebuyck has won 25 games and is tied for the NHL lead among goalies in games played (58) but also with a career-high 24 losses. He has stopped 98 of 104 shots while winning two of his past three starts overall, and he is 4-2-1 with a 2.69 goals-against average in his career as a starter vs. Detroit.

The Jets have won five of their past six meetings with the Red Wings, and three straight at home. However, Detroit (27-34-9, 63 points) ended an 0-4-2 rut with a 5-3 comeback home win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.

Jakub Vrana had a goal and an assist and Alex Nedeljkovic made a career-high 47 saves as the Red Wings overcame a 2-0 hole against the Bruins. Detroit scored more than two goals for just the third time in 10 games; but, more important, it clamped down on defense after allowing 26 in the previous four contests.

“We’re starting all over every day,” Vrana, who has nine points over an eight-game stretch, told Bally Sports Detroit. “Focusing, doing the right things every day. It’s just how it is.

“You can’t get too high or too low…(Wednesday) we have our work to do (again).”

Nedeljkovic was strong in snapping a personal 0-2-2 slide on Tuesday, and he made 29 saves while beating Winnipeg on Jan. 13, but the start Wednesday could go to Thomas Greiss. In his past six starts, Greiss has a 5.03 goals-against average while going 0-5-0.

Second on the team with 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists), Detroit star Tyler Bertuzzi is again slated to sit out Wednesday due to Canada’s rules regarding unvaccinated workers. The Red Wings have lost eight of their past nine road games.

–Field Level Media