The Winnipeg Jets will look slightly different for their home fans at Canada Life Centre on Thursday evening.
Considering the team last played a home game back on Monday, October 24, and three games have passed since then, a few lineup changes have been made out of necessity.
Set to host Canadian rival Montreal for the first and last time this season, the Jets will finally have their coach back in the fold, after prevailing from an extremely difficult bout with COVID.
“I can tell you at my age, you get the flu and you get the cold. Man, I’ve never been through anything like that,” Rick Bowness told reporters following his first skate back with the team. “I’ve learned more about brain fog and fatigue syndrome than I need to know.”
After dealing with some dizzy spells in his recovery from COVID, #NHLJets head coach Rick Bowness will miss his fifth game of the season tonight at home against St. Louis.
Smart team decision.
Associate coach Scott Arniel will once again serve as the acting head coach.
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) October 24, 2022
Bowness, who missed his team’s first four games of the season, returned to coach the Jets for just one game – a lopsided loss to the Leafs on October 22 – before falling back into post-COVID-like symptoms of dizziness and loss of self-control.
“My poor wife, listening to me screaming at the television,” he laughed. “Sometimes you just have to get behind the bench and act like an idiot.”
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Although somehow managing to sit in second place in the Central Division with a 5-3-1 record (5-2-1 under Scott Arniel) the Jets have gotten lucky on a few occasions, most notably the team’s final game of its most recent three-game road trip, to which it was horrendously outshot but somehow managed to pick up a single point in a last-minute overtime loss to Jack Eichel and the Vegas Golden Knights.
“Are we happy with our team play? Absolutely not. Not even close,” Bowness uttered. “…The effort is inconsistent. The compete is inconsistent. And the puck management is a huge issue right now. So we’ll deal with those issues.”
In dealing with those issues, Winnipeg will once again be playing without the services of speedy forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who remains out with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
According to Bowness, Ehlers’ ailment did not progress as well as the team would have hoped, and has met with a doctor to assess the situation further. He has now missed seven-straight games and his place on the injured reserve seems rather consistent.
The loss of Ehlers is certainly a tough pill to swallow, but making matters easier for the Jets is that defencman Dylan Samberg has healed up from his injury and has been able to jump into the lineup, taking over the spot of Logan Stanley, who has been diagnosed with a broken foot and will miss another two weeks.
A number of Jets missed practice on Wednesday, including Blake Wheeler, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mason Appleton, Josh Morrissey and Morgan Barron. According to the bench boss, all players will be good to go come Thursday night, with the exception of Barron. He will be reassessed by doctors again on Thursday.
Called up into action from the Manitoba Moose is Jansen Harkins, who took his demotion in stride, scoring five times and adding another four assists for nine points in his six AHL contests.
“I’m not going to try to get too far ahead of myself,” he said. “All I have to do is come here, work hard and try to show what I can do. That’s kind of just what I’ve done.”
Failing to crack the Jets’ opening night roster was certainly difficult for Harkins, who has spent the past two full seasons with Winnipeg. But when opportunity came knocking, he knew that the chance to prove his worth to his teammates and coaching staff of the big club was of utmost importance.
“Harks has been their best forward the last couple of games,” Bowness said of Harkins’ play with the Moose. “He feels very good about himself, he feels very good about his play, he feels very good about his contributions to the team. It’s a good time for us, if he gets a chance to play, to get a good look at him.”
The Jets will host the Canadiens live from Canada Life Centre at 7:00 PM central time on Thursday. The game can be viewed live on TSN for those in the Jets regional broadcast area.
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