WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Phil Housley had an up-close look at the Winnipeg Jets the last couple years while he was an assistant in Nashville. The Central Division is a tough one and the Jets could not make much of a dent with the likes of the Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild all in the division.
That's changed this year. Housley's Sabres hit Bell MTS Place here Friday night and the Jets had the second-best points percentage in the Western Conference. They've been leading the division much of the last month but entered Friday game one point behind St. Louis, albeit with two games in hand.
"They're a heavy team. They play the game the right way, have terrific speed up front and are well balanced," Housley said. "Their D like to activate into the rush to create offense. There's a lot of things we have to focus on."
The Jets continue to thrive even with center Mark Scheifele out for 6-8 weeks with what's believed to be a shoulder injury. Scheifele had 38 points in 38 games when he was hurt.
"He's been a pretty consistent player up front and this year he was having a terrific year with Blake Wheeler," Housley said. "They just seemed to play well with each other. It's unfortunate for him to get hurt because I think he's really coming into his own as a player. It just reflects on their record and where they are in the standings."
In their first six seasons after moving from Atlanta, the Jets have yet to win a playoff game. In fact, they've only qualified in 2015 and were swept by Anaheim in the first round that year.
Wheeler leads the Jets with 47 points and 34 assists. Second-year man Patrik Laine entered Friday with a team-high 18 goals. Winnipeg is also benefitting from a trio of Sabres alumni.
Former Sabre Tyler Myers has five goals, 14 assists and a plus-7 rating for the Jets while defense partner Dmitry Kulikov is at 2-8-10 and plus-6 over 39 games. In 47 games last year for the Sabres, Kulikov had two goals and three assists -- with a minus-26 rating. Winger Joel Armia, also a former Buffalo first-round draft pick, has six goals and 10 assists this season.
The Jets entered Friday with a 14-3-1 home record, second only to Vegas in the West. They were 13-1-1 in their last 15 home games. Conversely, Winnipeg is only 9-8-6 on the road. The Jets and Sabres will stage a rematch Tuesday night in KeyBank Center.
Sabres winger Benoit Pouliot, who had played all 40 games this season, was a healthy scratch Friday as Housley shook the lineup some in the wake of Thursday's 6-2 loss in Minnesota.
Josh Gorges and Scott Wilson returned, with Wilson drawing back in after four straight games as a healthy scratch. Justin Falk sat out with Pouliot.
"It's just a decision coming off a game last night," Housley said. ""There's some fresh people on a back to back game where we're going to try to implement in our lineup."
Pouliot has eight goals and three assists on the season but has no points in his last nine games and is minus-4 in his last three. He comes under the heading of your better players better be your better players.
"There's a lot of guys that fall into that place," Housley noted. "We've got some fresh guys that have been chomping at the bit to get back in the lineup and we're going to give them an opportunity."
The NHL did not announce any fine or supplemental discipline for Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen so he was good to go. The league undoubtedly felt Ristolainen essentially served a one-game suspension with Thursday's game misconduct, which came just 10 minutes into the first period.
"We can't dwell on what happened the last game but it's good to have him fresh," Housley said. "He only played five minutes last night so he should be ready to go."