Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 03/19/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
He's got one goal in his last 15 games -- and none in his last nine -- and yet you could argue Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler has been playing every bit as good lately -- and, at times, even better -- than he has at any time this season.
Indeed, you could argue that, in many ways, Wheeler's travails in recent weeks have mirrored those of his team -- they're both playing pretty well, but just not getting results.
The evidence in Wheeler's case is he has tallied 11 assists during that same 15-game period in which he cannot seem to buy a goal, making clear that he remains a highly productive member of the Jets.
An NHL player who is going through the motions and not being effective, after all, simply does not set up 11 goals in 15 games.
Now, four of Wheeler's assists came in just one spectacular game -- a 7-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday.
But even on the nights Wheeler hasn't hit the scoresheet lately, he has clearly been involved.
Take his club's 3-1 loss to the Blues in St. Louis Monday night. While Wheeler was held off the scoresheet, he was involved in the play all night and accounted for two of the measly 17 shots his team was able to muster against the Blues.
And you only had to look at the sorry state of Wheeler's face in the Jets dressing room after the game -- including a nasty scrape above his left eye -- to see Wheeler was much more than a spectator at Scottrade Center.
Indeed, Wheeler was fully engaged in the huge melee that broke out at the end of the game, earning himself a misconduct and fighting major for his role in the lengthy brawl that followed the final horn.
Wheeler also pulled no punches in the dressing room afterward, making clear what he thought of the fact the Blues had all their toughest players on the ice in the dying seconds of a 3-1 game, including thug Maxim Lapierre.
"I don't give a s about Lapierre," said Wheeler. "I was proud of our guys the way we did it -- we had (Bryan Little) and (Dustin Byfuglien) and (Andrew Ladd) and (Olli Jokinen) and those guys in there against their toughest guys. And we stuck together -- that's all you can ask for...
"If that's the way they want to do it, that's the way it is."
Despite his recent goal-scoring drought, Wheeler remains the team leader both in goals (23) and points (56) heading into the final 12 games of the season. And he is also one of just six Jets players who has played every game this season.
And even as his team has struggled this month -- losing seven of their last eight games, just when the playoffs seemed like it might be within their grasp -- Wheeler has been among the first to face the media in the Jets dressing room most nights, holding himself accountable and refusing any excuses for his team's lack of recent success, even when it's been offered him.
On Monday night, for instance, Wheeler wanted nothing to do with a reporter's suggestion his club had perhaps fallen victim in a hard-fought loss to the Blues to a very tough schedule that saw the Jets face the Dallas Stars at home only the night before and then fly to St. Louis in the wee hours of Monday morning.
"That's the way sometimes that the schedule shakes," said Wheeler. "And it's unfortunate with where we are in the season, the importance of this game, our opponents the last two games -- you factor all that in -- it's unfortunate.
"But we're not the only team in the league that has to do that. So I don't buy that as a good excuse."
While the result Monday night was obviously not what the Jets or Wheeler were looking for as that playoff spot they so covet increasingly becomes an apparition, Wheeler noted a narrow loss to a team in St. Louis that is now counting its point total in the standings in three digits carried some worth.
"We put forth a solid effort against the best team in the NHL," said Wheeler, "and there's something to be said for that."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2014 D3
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