The Winnipeg Jets will need to put up a good fight if they plan to claw their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture. And while the Jets have earned points in three consecutive games owing to some disciplined defensive play, opportunistic scoring and steady goaltending, dropping the gloves has also been a reoccurring theme in their recent success.
Over the last three games – beginning with a 2-0 win Tuesday over the Minnesota Wild at home, followed by a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars and a 5-2 victory against the Nashville Predators in back-to-back road games Friday and Saturday – the Jets have fought a combined six times. That represents nearly one-third of their 19 total fights through 45 games of the 2021-22 NHL season, which has Winnipeg tied at fifth for the most tilts in the league.
“I would say emotion is really a key component in it and I would say the intensity,” Jets interim coach Dave Lowry said early Monday, when asked about a common theme over the past three games. “We’ve been physical and with the physical component in our game, it has raised up the emotion and it’s brought the energy up. The result is that there have been a couple of battles and when we’re involved like that, we’re a good hockey team.”
To provide some perspective on the current statistics, the Jets have already surpassed the total number of fights in a season in each of their last four campaigns. Winnipeg had eight fights all of last season, which, when you consider the schedule was condensed to 56 games, that increases to just 11 in a regular 82-game year.
COVID-19 cut the Jets’ 2019-20 season to 71 games, with the Jets fighting 15 times that year. When accounting for the 11 games lost that season, it still averages out to just 17 fights. During the 2018-19 and 2017-18 seasons – both of which were 82-game campaigns – the Jets had 18 and eight fights, respectively.
During the 2018–19 and 2017–18 seasons — both of which were 82–game campaigns — the Jets had 18 and eight fights, respectively.
There are some obvious factors at play. The past three games were all against Central Division rivals, which are often spirited affairs, and the Jets are chasing each club in the standings. Winnipeg was at 20-17-8 heading into Monday’s game versus the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, seven points shy of the final wild-card playoff spot.
Two of the teams in Minnesota and Nashville are also among the Jets biggest rivalries, with Winnipeg building up a healthy hatred with the Wild and Predators over their history of playing in several regular-season and playoff games. The two teams aren’t exactly the type to shy away from the rough stuff, either, as Nashville leads the NHL in fights, with 31, and Minnesota sits tied with the Jets at 19.
“It definitely puts energy in the game, right? That’s probably the biggest thing,” Lowry added. “If you look at the fights…they’re a direct result of being physical and they’re a direct result of hits on players. Sometimes that happens.”
“If you look at the fights…they’re a direct result of being physical and they’re a direct result of hits on players. Sometimes that happens.” – Dave Lowry
For years, a debate has been brewing over the purpose of fighting and whether it has a place in the game.
The divide is usually between fans who take a more traditional approach, believing the exchange of bare fisticuffs helps patrol the game, compared to those who have a more progressive view, in favour of speed and talent over brute force. It seems most players are in favour of fighting in the NHL, hence why it remains firmly entrenched in the game – for now.
“It’s just one of those things where you’re trying to bring some emotion to the games, make sure things kind of don’t get out of hand. I think they’ve happened pretty organically,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry, who leads the team with six fights, including three in the last three games. “We just know how important all these Central Division games are; all these games are. We’ve put ourselves in a tough position and it’s about trying to battle out of it. That’s just one part of it.” While it’s certainly not easy to equate fighting to wins, nor is that necessarily the case here, the results are interesting. In the 15 games the Jets have played where there’s been a fight, they are 6-5-4.
At first glance, that’s not all that impressive. But if we’re to view fighting more as the result of intense and emotional play rather than the main objective, as Lowry contends, it’s worth a closer look.
Since taking over for Paul Maurice as head coach in mid-December, Lowry has often referenced the same handful of well-executed games as the blueprint for how he wants his team to play.
The last three games have been part of Lowry’s list. But it also includes losses such as a pair of road defeats against the Pittsburgh Penguins (3-2 in a shootout Jan. 23) and Boston Bruins (3-2, Jan. 22), as well as a 4-2 win at home over the St. Louis Blues back on Dec. 19. The Jets fought in each one of these games.
“When you’re playing physically…sometimes there’s going to be plays where you want to be physical and on the edge but you obviously don’t want anyone to be hurt or to be taking penalties,” said Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon, who, like Lowry, has a very physical element to his game.
“When you’re playing physically…sometimes there’s going to be plays where you want to be physical and on the edge but you obviously don’t want anyone to be hurt or to be taking penalties.” – Brenden Dillon, Jets defenceman
“I don’t know if there’s a code per se, but guys are going to ask for a fight after (a big hit, clean or dirty) to look after their teammates. You want guys to feel confident. There’s definitely a place in the game for fighting. (The last few games) it’s been a hit or a physical play or a battle where two guys get pissed off at each other and the next thing you know (we’re fighting).”
Coach Lowry said he wants his players to be smart on the ice, which means picking your spots as far as fighting goes. He also isn’t a proponent of players having to answer for a clean body check, whether delivered by or against his team.
But he also knows that with the Jets remain outside the playoff line, and these next 36 games will only continue to bring a high sense of urgency and emotion. And he’s not about to put a lid on the way they’re playing.
“With a big hit sometimes comes excitement,” coach Lowry said. “We’re going to continue to play the same way. The expectation is we’re a good team when we have emotion, and we have physicality in our game. It opens up space for some of our other guys.”
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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