With hours still remaining before puck drop between the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators, defenceman Nathan Beaulieu already had a good idea of how things will play out.
The Jets defenceman isn’t psychic — he’s just seen this movie before. Whenever you see a team for three straight games, as the Jets and Sens will wrap up Saturday, and tempers have flared before the third meeting, it’s bound to be another physical affair.
“You can expect the same thing. We kind of expected this was gonna happen this season with playing the same team over and over again. It’s almost like a playoff series,” Beaulieu said prior to Friday’s optional practice. “The most important thing is we’ve got the first four points and to sweep the series right off the hop would be very important for us. We expect a big game out of them for sure.”
Just the fact Beaulieu is talking as if it’s the post-season should show the level of animosity brewing between the two clubs. On Thursday, a 4-1 road win for the Jets, the teams combined for 20 penalties, 14 of which occurred in the third period, including fighting majors for Beaulieu and Ottawa forward Brady Tkachuk.
The Senators were particularly scrappy in the final 20 minutes, accumulating five roughing penalties to go with Tkachuk’s fight. It was a clear reaction to being outplayed by the Jets, who undoubtedly had their best outing through the first four games of the season.
Winnipeg didn’t back down, either. Though known for their high-end skill, the Jets showed off some mental and physical toughness. They didn’t retreat against a bigger Senators club and though they were outscored 1-0 in the final frame, that edge represented more of blunder than a shift in momentum. The victory never seemed in doubt for Winnipeg.
Head coach Paul Maurice sees no reason why the Jets wouldn’t be comfortable in games that turn physical, even if they are considered to be more of a skilled team. He noted this is a group that has been mostly intact for years now, has seen that it takes battling night in and night out to be successful and is more willing than ever to stick up for each other.
What he saw against Ottawa was just further proof of that notion.
“Going back three seasons ago, we got into a game in Anaheim and we had a really young bunch of forwards at the time. So you take three years off all these kids that we had up front and that was their game plan, right? Finish every check as hard as they could. And we got faster in that game. We played one of our best games of the year, we were really good at it, and I thought I saw elements of that (Thursday) night,” Maurice said.
“It’s not so much ‘Hey, this is the Winnipeg Jets, let’s be physical on their team.’ It’s how the Ottawa Senators are built. They’re built with a bunch of those guys to finish all their checks and you’ve got to play as fast as you possibly can. We’re not young anymore. So this isn’t the first time we would have seen that. I thought we handled it right.”
The Jets have added some size to their roster, by design and necessity.
They signed Derek Forbort, a stable 6-4 defenceman, and veteran forwards Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis, both of whom are taller than six feet. Through injury, Logan Stanley, the team’s biggest player at 6-7 and 228 pounds, saw his first NHL action. With defenceman Dylan DeMelo back in the mix after missing the first four games to support his partner and their newborn baby, it’s Sami Niku who comes out, leaving Stanley in the top six.
Stanley looked at ease during a chaotic third period Thursday. At one point he even had ahold of two players, in what could best be described as a near perfect Dustin Byfuglien impression.
“I’d rather it be me in that scrum than (Mark Scheifele) having to deal with someone. That’s part of my job, when stuff goes a little bit sideways,” Stanley said. “I’m just trying to help out my teammates.”
Don’t expect the Jets to morph into heavy hitters overnight. Though they feel they can rumble with any team in the Canadian Division, being disciplined also has its perks. They know they’re better off spending time outside the penalty box than in.
“The best deterrent on an overly physical team is going to be your power play,” Maurice said, noting the Jets were 0-for-7 on the man advantage Thursday. “We need to get that up and running because if you get put on the power play as many times as we did last night, you can quiet the game down pretty quick.”
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After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
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