Jets coach faults the ‘D’ for recent slump

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DALLAS — Drew Stafford doesn’t have a point in eight games. Ditto Jacob Trouba. Ditto Adam Lowry.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/11/2015 (2572 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DALLAS — Drew Stafford doesn’t have a point in eight games. Ditto Jacob Trouba. Ditto Adam Lowry.

Alex Burmistrov has one point in nine games. Tyler Myers hasn’t hit the scoresheet in five games. Nikolaj Ehlers doesn’t have a point in four games. Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault don’t have a point in three games.

Add it all up, and it would seem a failure to put the puck in the net of late is the underlying reason for a nasty little skid that has seen the once-high-flying Winnipeg Jets lose their last three games — and four of their last five.

Not so, insists Paul Maurice. Indeed, the Winnipeg Jets head coach said Wednesday the biggest problem with his team right now is his slumping squad is too concerned with scoring and has forgotten about the disciplined defensive style that has underlay any success this team has ever had under Maurice.

“I think our focus on scoring is the kiss of death for us right now,” Maurice said. “We’ve got players who stop scoring for four or five games and they start changing the way they view the puck and where it is.”

Maurice pointed to a debacle of a 5-3 loss in Minnesota Tuesday night in support of his claim. The Wild erupted for four goals in a second period that was surely the worst 20 minutes the Jets have played all season. Minnesota scored twice on breakaways and had too many odd-man rushes to count in a period the Jets would surely love to forget, but which Maurice seems to want to use as a teaching moment.

“We didn’t lose the game (in Minnesota) because we didn’t win it 6-5,” said Maurice. “The game wasn’t lost because we didn’t score six goals. The game was lost because we gave up five.”

While no one was saying exactly what was said behind closed doors after the humbling loss to the Wild, two themes emerged over and over again Wednesday afternoon as Jets players reflected on what has gone so wrong for a team that went 7-3-1 in the month of October but is just 1-3-1 in November: they haven’t been quick enough, and they haven’t been disciplined enough.

“I think we’re still trying to figure out exactly what we are this year,” Jets forward Drew Stafford said following a high-tempo — and no-nonsense — one-hour practice session.

“We’ve had some games where we played a solid 50 minutes and some were 40 minutes. But we haven’t really had that game yet where we can kind of say this is our game, this is how we want to play.

“We’re still working at it. It’s a work-in-progress. But having a day like today where we’re getting back to basics as far as playing with speed, staying with the puck, playing with that aggressiveness but also with discipline, I think that’s pretty close to how we were going last year.”

So what does going back to basics look like? Well, Jets practice Wednesday afternoon was both unusually fast and unusually aggressive — defenceman Mark Stuart flattened forward Perreault at one point, and Perreault wobbled as he slowly got back up.

Blake Wheeler also left practice early, nursing what appeared to be an upper-body injury sustained during practice. But Maurice proclaimed his leading points-getter to be “fine” after the session ended.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice talks to his players in a timeout during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins in Boston, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015.

He’d better be — the Wheeler-Bryan Little-Andrew Ladd line has almost single-handedly provided what little scoring punch the Jets have had lately, including all three of Winnipeg’s goals Tuesday night.

Maurice’s focus Wednesday on tightening up on defence comes, not coincidentally, as the Jets prepare to face a high-octane Dallas Stars team tonight in the second of a critical four-game road trip through the Central Divison.

The Stars have two of the top three points-getters in the league in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn (Wheeler is fourth), and any chance the Jets have of beating Dallas and getting back on track begins not with outscoring the Stars but rather keeping them off the scoreboard.

A power-play goal or two would be nice, too. The Jets picked up a power-play marker Tuesday night in garbage time — they were down 5-1 — but are still just 1-16 with the extra man of late.

Then there’s the slow starts — Winnipeg has trailed 1-0 in 12 of their 16 games so far this season. It’s a trend they continued in the loss to Minnesota and is going to have to stop if they’re going to have any success on the current road trip, which sees them take on four high-flying Central teams (they also play Nashville Saturday and St. Louis Monday) with a cumulative record of, get this, 41-13-5.

The Jets got away with the lazy starts last month against lesser opponents. But the Central is where the big boys play, and spotting these guys a goal is just blood in the water.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

AP Photo/Paul Vernon Winnipeg Jets' D-man Mark Stuart, left, and Columbus Blue Jackets' David Savard work for the puck during the second period of a game in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015.
Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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