Whatever the headlines read in the wake of Tuesday night’s shoot-out loss to the Washington Capitals – a heartbreaker, by all accounts, and perhaps a worse fate than the jumped-up Jets deserved – the team will be free of them for a week now, at least.
The Jets hit the ice at MTS Iceplex on Wednesday for a brisk morning practice, then quickly packed their bags and headed to the airport. They were slated to fly to Nashville on Wednesday afternoon for the first of a four-game road trip, which kicks off against the Predators on Thursday night. The timing on that game is perfect, a chance for payback after the Preds caught the Jets flat-footed in their own home barn on Sunday.
"We owe Nashville a game," Jets head coach Claude Noel said. "We have to put our best foot forward, and play the way we’re capable to play. And we’ll deal with the other opponents when we get there."
There’s a lot to be said in favour of the roadie, which will see them visit their little-known new neighbours in the Central Division, starting with Nashville and then continuing through Dallas, Colorado and St. Louis before coming back home to welcome Jonathan Toews and his Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 2.
It’s a chance to escape the media glare a little, which has been harsh in the rocky opening of this season, and a chance to find a little cohesion. It’s also chance to hone their strategies against those division neighbours. "That’s a process as well," Noel said. "The players themselves don’t know the opponents, they don’t know them on the face-off dot, they don’t know their habits… so it’s our job to educate them through tape, talking. It’s good, the more games you end up playing them."
Plus, there’s something to be said for the relative serenity that the road life brings. There are fewer questions, fewer headlines, fewer whispers in the grocery store, and those that exist are far away. "When things are kind of going that way, there’s a lot of talk going around town," said winger Blake Wheeler, who looked to find his stride in Tuesday night’s game.
No doubt, he agreed, those criticisms were justified when the Jets looked to be slumping through some games, but that doesn’t make it easy to face. On the road, though? Just hockey, teammates, and the life of the road. "Sometimes it’s nice to get out of town, and establish those bonds you don’t get when you don’t see each other quite as much at home," he said.
Jets blueliner Toby Enstrom and centre Jim Slater weren’t on the ice for Wednesday’s practice, just taking a maintenance day. It’s likely that all the Jets except for defender Jacob Trouba, still out with a neck sprain after a scary crash into the boards last Friday, will make the road trip, Noel said.