Jets need to be more more emotionally invested: Wheeler


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For all the potholes they've rolled through their winning-streak-free NHL season, the Winnipeg Jets still aren't in the ditch.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/01/2016 (2400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For all the potholes they’ve rolled through their winning-streak-free NHL season, the Winnipeg Jets still aren’t in the ditch.

That comes into focus more tonight than previously, as the team they should have their sights on, the Nashville Predators, are here for a 7 p.m. start at the MTS Centre.

The Predators are the fifth-place team in the Central Division with 45 points, but, more importantly, hold the Western Conference’s final wild-card playoff berth.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler at practice Wednesday afternoon at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The Jets are in preparation for a home tilt tonight against the Nashville Predators.

The Jets? For their troubles at 19-21-3 and 41 points, they are just four points off the line and have four Central games in a row in front of them between now and next Thursday.

It sounds like an opportunity for a team that has lost three in a row.

“We weren’t playing our best hockey in the last couple of games but we’re still in a decent spot,” said Jets centre Bryan Little after this morning’s game-day skate downtown. “If we do have a good couple-week stretch and beat teams that we need to beat, we’re not that far off where we want to be.”

What it may take to start with some progress has been a matter of discussion here for a few days.

Wednesday, assistant captain Blake Wheeler, Little’s linemate, spoke about getting the Jets more emotionally invested.

“He’s a leader on our team,” Little said. “Every time he talks in this room, guys pay attention. We just have to take more example of how he plays. He’s an emotional player. He wears his heart on his sleeve. You can tell when he’s upset or frustrated. He lets everyone know how he feels. Showing how much he cares, that’s got to rub off on some of these guys at some point. We all need to play with that intensity and emotion.”

Jets coach Paul Maurice endorsed that kind of thinking again this morning.

“To put this in relative terms, that’s the area where we want to get better,” Maurice said. “And some of that’s just the focus of where you put your emotions going into a game. You’re carrying those losses and feel like you’ve failed to get to this point and you’re carrying a weight that’s not going to help you in this game. The emotional investment in terms of the energy you can drive off if, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Maurice had a grin when reminded of Wheeler’s words from Wednesday.

“He probably heard it somewhere before first and it’s something that’s talked about in the room,” the coach said. “At least they listened, caught pieces of it.”

Maurice was also asked once again whether the matter of captain Andrew Ladd and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien being without contact extensions is any issue in his dressing room.

“I don’t believe it is,” he said, again. “We’ll just take Dustin’s play overall, over the year. He’s a plus player on the back end and there’s just been way more nights where we come in here and talk about him being a special player.

“Andrew Ladd got off to a bit of a slow start but he’s on that pro-rated 20-goal stage and about 10 days ago the coach comes in and say, ‘I’m going to move you from the two best offensive players on our team and I’m going to ask you to take a checking role in your contract year and play some games with (Adam) Lowry and (Alex) Burmistrov. He handled as well as a man can, went out and played even harder and better and got those two kids going and got them fired up in the game. That’s great leadership.”

Maurice put out a further endorsement of Ladd, maybe to counteract some of the negativity that’s out there’s regarding the captain’s play.

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” he said. “There’s been guys in the past who have gone right home and called their agent and said, ‘I’m in my contract year, I’m not checking…get me out of here.’ He went out and handled it as a great leader.”

The Jets, who play in Minnesota on Friday, won’t have centre Mark Scheifele in the lineup for that game either. Scheifele suffered some kind of lower-body ailment last week late in the game in Dallas and hasn’t skated since he tried the pre-game warmup last Sunday. That takes his return into next week at best.


Updated on Thursday, January 14, 2016 4:42 PM CST: Spelling corrected

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