Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.
After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.
Already a subscriber?
Already a subscriber?
How does a hockey club recreate the look and feel of a Stanley Cup contender locked in a frenetic May playoff rush when it’s a cold and dreary October and the truly meaningful days are still months away?
That’s the challenge for the Winnipeg Jets, generating those emotions because points banked now certainly matter later.
And head coach Paul Maurice says it’s his task to get buy-in from the Central Division team as it moves into the third week of the 2018-19 NHL season.
He’s seen some really good teams, recently, in fact, such as the Edmontons and Ottawas, come ‘oh, so close’ one season, only to stumble badly the next.
Maurice ran the bench in Carolina during the 2001-02 season when the Hurricanes lost the NHL championship to the Detroit Red Wings. A year later they posted just 22 wins and were the worst team in the league.
“I’ve been through it and I watched it. So, we paid close attention to Edmonton last year and Ottawa last year, and are very aware, especially with a young group, of how we handle our play,” Maurice said, following Monday’s 45-minute practice at Bell MTS Place. “We lost five 30-year-olds that moved on from our team. We got quite a bit younger than we were last year and understood that when we come back, the expectations (changed) completely around us and that’s true of our players and the coaching staff.
“I really feel that’s my job here this year, to make sure that we set a high enough bar, but a realistic bar, with the idea that the bar will get raised over the course of 82 games — that we aren’t coming off the conference final and looking like that at the start. That’s not a failure by our players. We’re a different team this year, so we have to go back through that process.
“We’re going to take our game, live it a day at a time and get better every day.”
The process continues tonight against the Edmonton Oilers (1-2-0) as the Jets (3-2-0) play the second of six consecutive games at the downtown arena.
Winnipeg has won both of its home games, including a 3-1 victory over the speedy, tenacious Carolina Hurricanes. The hosts were fortunate to exit with two points Sunday night, due in large part to the stingy goaltending of back-up Laurent Brossoit.
The newcomer faced a barrage of shots, turning aside 42, as Winnipeg had difficulty controlling the puck for much of the night. Credit the Metropolitan Division squad for forcing many of those ugly turnovers.
However, the Jets haven’t been quite as responsible defensively this season as last, which had become part of their fabric in a turn-around 2017-18 campaign. Maurice’s troops aren’t exactly firing bushels of goals, either. Heading into Monday’s action, only four teams had scored fewer goals, and all of Arizona, Florida, Minnesota and Edmonton had played fewer games.
Winnipeg’s most complete game to date was a tidy 2-1 triumph over the visiting Los Angeles Kings one week ago. The Jets led by just a goal for the entire second half of the game but showed no signs of panic — no clear and present danger of implosion.
So, the positive character traits exhibited by a wildly entertaining playoff team in the spring are beginning to emerge, but slowly.
“It’s an everyday thing. You go from playing in the (Western) Conference final, really big games, and (then) starting all over again. It’s a long time before you’re playing those big games again,” offered veteran Jets centre Bryan Little. “You’ve got to get yourself to realize that these points and these games are going to be important in the long term.”
“The way the fans and media were talking, you know, about a Stanley Cup this year, we’ve got to get there first. You can’t win a Cup if you’re watching the playoffs from home.”
Nikolaj Ehlers said it’s a work in progress for he and his teammates to elevate their play to most closely resemble their playoff selves.
“It’s different, for sure. The city is different, the games are different, everything’s different,” said the winger. “If we can find the way we got ourselves going last year for the playoffs, and be the way we were, getting excited the way we did, we’ll get back on track pretty quick.”
The most shocked people in the building to see a 2-on-0 rush Sunday night were the guys racing in together on Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek.
Ehlers had the puck but dished it off to Patrik Laine. He, in turn, sent it right back to Ehlers, who couldn’t find the back of the net.
“When you’re coming down on a 2-on-0, you’re not really sure exactly what to do because you never get down on a 2-on-0,” said Ehlers. “It was a nice save, obviously, a little lucky, I think. He got over really well and made the save, so good for him.”
Laine joked the pair needs to practise its technique on the rare two-man breakaway.
“I think we were pretty surprised that we were just all by ourselves, two against the goalie. You don’t see that too often and I think that was the first 2-on-0 I’ve ever been involved in. There’s actually too much time. You don’t know what you should be doing. I think we should maybe work on that a little more,” said Laine.
Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien sat out Sunday’s game with an upper-body injury, and his participation Tuesday against the visiting Edmonton Oilers remains a question mark. He skated on his own Monday and will skate early on gameday before the club makes a decision.
Defensive partners Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey didn’t practise Monday but will compete against the Oilers, Maurice said.
No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck gets the start for Winnipeg.
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).