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Josh Morrissey says it wasn’t a wake-up call. But we’re guessing Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice saw at least a few things during his team’s first two games of the season to prevent him from having a peaceful sleep.
No, the sky isn’t falling, and by splitting road contests in St. Louis (5-1 win) and Dallas (5-1 loss), the club is ahead of schedule when compared with last year’s franchise-record campaign.
You’ll recall Winnipeg laid two big eggs right out of the gate, getting throttled by both Toronto (7-2) and Calgary (6-3). History shows they recovered nicely from that start, finishing the regular season at 52-20-10 and then marching all the way to the Western Conference final.
If anything, this season’s launch has only reinforced what Maurice and his troops were saying throughout training camp: Nothing is going to come easy.
“This league’s too good to not be on you’re A game every night. You’re not going to have success that way. It’s early in the year, I think it’s at a point where we played really well in St. Louis, didn’t play our best game here (Saturday night). We can get a lot better. It’s not a wake-up call or anything like that, but it just goes to show that every night in this league is extremely hard,” Morrissey said following the disappointing defeat in Dallas.
After flying home in the wee hours of the night and getting Sunday off — their first day away from the rink in more than a week — the Jets return to the ice on Monday morning for practice at Bell MTS Iceplex. There should be plenty to work on as they prepare for Tuesday night’s home opener against the Los Angeles Kings.
One key area of concern is the fact the Jets were shorthanded nine times in two games, while only drawing five power plays. Winnipeg gave up three goals while down a man, all against the Stars, while only scoring once when they had the extra skater on the ice.
Connor Hellebuyck was peppered with 77 shots in two games, including 27 while his team was shorthanded.
“The penalty kill has got to get better,” Maurice said Saturday night. “Five on five, you’re going to find out (the scoring chances) are even. I think we gave up less five-on-five (Saturday) than we did (in the opener against St. Louis).”
Dallas clearly had some added incentive Saturday, having dropped eight consecutive games against Winnipeg over two seasons. The Stars missed the playoffs by just three points last year, and no doubt getting going 0-for-4 against the Jets played a factor. It was clear they were playing with much more urgency.
Another thing to watch with the Jets is whether Maurice considers tinkering with his defensive pairings. The duo of Joe Morrow and Tyler Myers had an especially rough game in Dallas — Myers was on the ice for four of the five goals against — so perhaps veteran Dmitry Kulikov will soon get a chance to return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the first two games.
The top line of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor has looked dangerous, especially in St. Louis, and Connor has goals in both games. The shutdown line of Adam Lowry, Adam Copp and Brandon Tanev have also been effective, as you’d expect.
But Maurice is still searching for more from his other two units. In both games, he’s flipped Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers at various points trying to find a spark. He gave a pretty blunt assessment when asked what he saw when Ehlers moved back on to a line with Bryan Little and Patrik Laine midway through the game.
“Not a whole lot,” said Maurice.
After facing the Kings, the Jets hit the road for another tough divisional match-up in Nashville on Thursday. Then it’s back to Winnipeg for a six-game homestand, which is their longest of the season.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.