The Jets wrapped up a short homestand on Saturday with a round of drills on the ice, their bags already packed for Vancouver where they face the Canucks on Sunday night.
Captain Andrew Ladd didn’t skate, as he rested some bumps, and defenceman Grant Clitsome also missed practice; he’s a little banged up.
Head coach Claude Noel hears that a lot lately, with the Jets sitting at 16-16-5 and the season’s midway pole fast approaching.
"We could probably keep a lot of guys off the ice," Noel said, after putting his squad through their paces. "It’s just the workload… you’re always playing it seems. It’s an Olympic year, they condensed the schedule, and the people that know it are our training staff. There are guys (getting worked on) all the time. They got a lot of work to do in there all the time."
Surely, the solid 5-2 win over Florida on Friday night helped the Jets shake the soreness off their bodies. The win wasn’t perfect, and Noel thought the first period especially was a bit of a mess, and not just because of the parade to the penalty box. To the coach’s eye, the new defence pairings — including Zach Bogosian next to Tobias Enstrom, and Dustin Byfuglien with Adam Pardy — also looked unsettled that frame.
"It was a little bit of an adjustment for us," Noel said. "Our puck management wasn’t great with the forwards in our D-zone. But I thought as the game went on, we were quite a bit better. I thought that they were good. I thought that everyone was aligned pretty well in that game."
It showed on the back end, it showed in the front. While the more experienced Ladd-Little-Wheeler line shouldered much of the load of busting out of the Jets’ own end, the line of Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik gobbled up tasty minutes on the attack — not counting changes on the fly, Kane started just over 87 per cent of his even-strength shifts in the opponent’s zone and Frolik close to the same — and they thrived.
Kane potted a goal and an assist — as did Frolik — and Scheifele kept his now five-game point streak alive. Those are the numbers, while the eye test suggests that trio had fun on Friday, often confounding defenders and driving the net. They look, these days, like they’re finding the joy of the game.
"I don’t use ‘joy’ as my word, I’ll leave that to Claude," quipped Kane before hopping the plane to his Vancouver hometown. "But when the puck goes in the net, everybody’s happy."
But that’s enough looking back. The win on Friday snapped a six-game home losing streak, but Noel said the team doesn’t get caught up in streaks.
"We try to focus on the game, or the task, and try to keep a balance of things," he said. "We move off of games. We don’t drag games with us, six games or five games or these things. We don’t get too involved in these numbers."
On Saturday, that meant moving past the euphoria of a win, letting go of the Panthers and getting ready for the Vancouver test ahead, and the Edmonton Oilers on Monday after that. No, the coach didn’t need to remind his team the win was in the past.
"I don’t say too much," Noel said.
"We all have responsibilities. Winning is just a byproduct of playing well as a group of 20, and if you can produce and play well as a group of 20, and work hard, perform and do well, then the results will follow that. We haven’t had that kind of game that much… I’m not gonna sit there and motivate them from one game to the next. That’s all our responsibilities."