Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 01/16/2014 2:08 PM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 01/17/2014 12:40 AM | Updates
CALGARY — Paul Maurice is still undefeated this morning as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets won their second game in a row here Thursday night since Maurice took over from Claude Noel behind the Jets bench last Sunday, dumping the hapless Calgary Flames 5-2.
Add last night’s victory to an equally dominating 5-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes in Maurice’s debut Monday at the MTS Centre and a Jets team that has struggled all season long to string consecutive wins together suddenly has two in a row to improve to 21-23-5.
Yes, it bears noting, both wins came against struggling opponents. Phoenix had lost four out of five coming into Winnipeg and looked every bit on Monday like a team down on its luck. And with the loss to the Jets, the Flames set a new franchise record for futility at home, losing their seventh straight at the Pengrowth Saddledome in an unspeakable run that has seen them outscored by a cumulative 22-4.
Still, if the primary motivation for relieving Noel of his duties was because he was unable to extract consistently winning performances from this Jets team — and it was — and the earliest returns thus far would suggest the Jets braintrust might be on to something.
"We did a good job using our speed and I think that’s been the key for us the last couple games," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who was one of six Jets who had two-point nights.
"But it’s two good games. I don’t think we can get ahead of ourselves. We have a long ways to go. We’re back to playing the way we want to be playing. But the key now is to stay with it."
With a first period goal that put the Jets up 2-0, Dustin Byfuglien now has one goal and three assists in his last three games since moving up to wing and looks increasingly comfortable with his new role as the ultimate power forward.
While Byfuglien continues to see time on the blue-line as a forward, he’s spending most of his time lately playing wing on a line with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi and it seems unlikely that will change anytime soon.
Maurice was gushing with his praise when asked prior to last night’s game for his thoughts on Byfuglien playing a hybrid role for the Jets.
"He’s a dominant force up front and he’s a dominant force on the blue line. From what I’ve seen, he does things that other coaches would never be able to teach....And if you can’t teach it, you can’t defend against it."
With Winnipeg’s third goal of the game in the second period last night and an assist on Jacob Trouba’s third-period marker, rookie Jets forward Mark Scheifele now has 16 points in his last 17 games.
Scheifele has been playing of late on a line with Wheeler and Chris Thorburn and the line seems to have developed some quick chemistry. Wheeler’s goal-mouth pass that set up Scheifele’s goal was a thing of beauty and the normally workmanlike Thorburn was all over the score-sheet with a pair of assists.
"They’re smart players," Scheifele said of his linemates. "They’re big, they move the puck well and we’re getting more used to each other. I think it’s a big thing."
While the Jets forward spent the week downplaying his return to an arena where he spent the better part of four seasons with the Flames, Jokinen certainly played like he was enjoying the experience.
Jokinen set up Byfuglien for Winnipeg’s second goal of the game midway through the first period and then scored one of his own on a knuckle-puck at 17:31 of the second period to put the game out of reach at 4-0.
In addition to Jokinen, Thorburn, Scheifele and Wheeler, other Jets players with two-point nights were Andrew Ladd, who had two assissts, and Bryan Little, who had a goal and an assist.
Live Winnipeg Jets Coverage
Updated on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 8:46 PM CST: Updates first period score; changes headline.
9:40 PM: Updates second period score; changes headline.
10:28 PM: Adds slideshow.
10:46 PM: Updates final score; changes headline.
11:22 PM: Adds full, post-game write-thru.
12:40 AM: Updates post-game story.
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