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Things were strangely upbeat, boisterous — fun, even — on the ice at Bell MTS Place Wednesday as the Winnipeg Jets hit the reset button after a stunning third-period collapse the night before.
The club went into the final frame with a 4-1 lead over the Edmonton Oilers. But when they trudged back to the dressing room at the end, they had a measly single point to show for it, losing 5-4 in overtime to Connor McDavid & Co.
The players, not the coaching staff, decided to set the mood. After practice, there was an acknowledgement that there hasn’t been a jot of joy in Jetsville to begin the season.
“Being up 4-1, obviously (Tuesday) night was tough,” said left-winger Andrew Copp. “You go home and think about it. But this morning, I think we’ve been pretty good at re-setting. Whether it was last year or two years ago, I think we’ve learned through experience how to leave a game there.
“We tried to loosen up and maybe have a little bit of fun and get back to that good feeling. I think our bench hasn’t been as good, so I think trying to get some fun and having a lot of talk going can be paramount for these next few weeks.”
“Being up 4-1, obviously (Tuesday) night was tough. You go home and think about it. But this morning, I think we’ve been pretty good at re-setting… I think we’ve learned through experience how to leave a game there.” – Andrew Copp
Head coach Paul Maurice has spoken in the past about his bench being “right.” So, what does a not-so-right bench look like?
“I think when you go through the ups and downs of a playoff, everyone’s so into it, so dialed in; our bench is wired and there’s a lot of talk,” said Copp, his club now five months removed from a remarkable 2017-18 post-season run to the Western Conference final.
“There’s just a vibe on the bench that we haven’t had to start the year, for the most part. So I think we gotta get that going again. I think to a man it’s just talking about nothing, honestly. It’s just getting that positivity and that jam and just trying to show how wired you are and that just gets the whole bench wired. Not that it’s anything groundbreaking… it’s just really yelling whatever’s on your mind that’s positive, and it kind of gets the guys going in terms of showing your intensity level and how dialed in you are every night.”
And there was a fair bit of that among his mates during practice: Patrik Laine gave linemate and good buddy Nik Ehlers an earful for soaring offside on a two-on-one drill; Mathieu Perreault fist-bumped those around him after a particularly slick move to stuff a puck behind backup goalie Laurent Brossoit; and, injured D-man Dustin Byfuglien, wearing a yellow “non-contact” jersey, playfully disparaged just about anyone who ventured near him.
In short, the sun did indeed rise the morning after the hideous night before, and the team is moving on.
“We tried to loosen up and maybe have a little bit of fun and get back to that good feeling. I think our bench hasn’t been as good, so I think trying to get some fun and having a lot of talk going can be paramount for these next few weeks.” – Andrew Copp
“I think everybody kind of came to the rink that way, (in) a better mood. It’s not saying we don’t care about (Tuesday’s loss), because we do; we care a lot,” said left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers.
“We had a game where we had everything under control and threw it away,” said Ehlers. “By coming to the rink, laughing, having a good time, practising really hard but staying loose, we’re over that game. We talked about it in the room before we went on the ice and took it from there.”
Winnipeg (3-2-1) meets the Vancouver Canucks (4-2-0) Thursday night at 7 p.m., the third game of a six-pack homestand. The Canucks, winners of three in a row, wrap up a six-game road trip of their own.
McDavid was magnificent, scoring a pair of goals and adding two assists, in the comeback victory, although he didn’t play a role in the winner by blue-liner Darnell Nurse at 1:25 of OT.
Credit the speedy, all-world skilled Edmonton captain for giving the Jets fits all night, but the hosts have no one to blame but themselves for the bitter ending. While they gave McDavid far too much time and space, they also softened their forecheck, turned the puck over in the neutral zone and appeared puzzled while defending in the space above goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
There was tension in their game, and it’s been simmering since the start of the season.
“So their memory is not of last year… and that’s where the slight disconnect happens. The memories are of a building that’s absolutely wired… playoff hockey, a different beast,” Maurice said after practice.
“And that’s what you come back into the season with, and, all of a sudden, it doesn’t feel the same. We’ve actually played better hockey in the first six than I think we did in the first six last year. So, this is a brand new team… we have to start from zero on some things. And that is handling adversity, dealing with kind of a knockout punch (from the Oilers) and coming to work today.
“It’s not supposed to feel like it did at the end of the year. That’s why playoffs are way more fun for players, coaches and fans than the regular season. But we need to find some of that joy in the regular season, carry the appropriate amount of pressure into hockey games but not so much that your legs stop moving when you go from 4-1 to 4-2.
“I liked the way things went (in practice),” he added. “They pushed real hard in some drills, but there’s absolutely no reason for any of us to every overlook the fact that a day in the NHL is a pretty good day. I want to see a smile on their face while they’re doing it, I want to see some joy in the grind.”
Clamping down while holding the lead was a hallmark of the Jets last season. The Central Division squad was a rock-solid 30-2-2 when ahead after one period and 42-1-1 when up after 40 minutes.
Right-winger Brandon Tanev said Tuesday’s poor period is in the rear-view mirror, and the Jets still have plenty of confidence in their ability to put down a complete 60-minute effort.
“The first two periods we played the right game. We got on pucks, got pucks to the net. And we got away from that in the third and they capitalized. But we have to move on from that. It’s early in the season and mistakes are going to happen, but at the same time you have to learn from those mistakes and be ready to play the Canucks,” he said.
“We take a look at what worked for us, last year and this year, and it’s being fast, playing physical and taking away space.”
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).