Banged-up Jets running on fumes

Reinforcements badly needed to keep team from falling too far in the standings

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The Winnipeg Jets took a badly needed day off Monday in the Twin Cities, and, for their sake, let’s hope they hunkered down in a hotel room, resisting the urge to visit Mall of America for fear an escalator ride might result in a high-ankle sprain.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2016 (2200 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets took a badly needed day off Monday in the Twin Cities, and, for their sake, let’s hope they hunkered down in a hotel room, resisting the urge to visit Mall of America for fear an escalator ride might result in a high-ankle sprain.

This is a hockey team that cannot afford another banged-up body.

Right now, a swollen injury list is causing some pain and suffering for the Jets, who are feeling the sting of a three-game road skid.

Karl B DeBlaker / The Associated Press Carolina Hurricanes' Derek Ryan shoots the puck past Winnipeg Jets' Mark Stuart in front of goalie Connor Hellebuyck Sunday in Raleigh, N.C. The Hurricanes won 3-1.

The Jets have seven players from their season-opening roster out of the lineup due to an assortment of injuries picked up during the first six weeks of the season.

Bryan Little, the team’s perennial No.1 centre until the emergence of Mark Scheifele last season, was the first to go down after a collision with Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell just 10 minutes into the season opener.

In an especially sad twist, Bickell has since been sidelined indefinitely after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

By mid-November, Winnipeg’s infirmary was packed, with centre Mathieu Perreault, wingers Shawn Matthias, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia and Kyle Connor, and defenceman Tyler Myers all recuperating.

Only the Dallas Stars have been ravaged by the injury bug to a similar extent, with top forwards such as Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Cody Eakin and Jiri Hudler out for stretches of the season.

Call-ups from the Manitoba Moose filled in admirably and the Jets were soaring there for awhile. Winnipeg had won four of five games — including a 4-0 shutout over Chicago on Nov. 15 — to climb to second in the Central Division, just four points back of the front-running Blackhawks.

That was before the team headed to the eastern United States last week before the rigours of a brutal November schedule started taking a toll.

The Jets lost in Philadelphia on Thursday, were embarrassed in Boston on Saturday and then ran out of fuel in Raleigh, N.C., late Sunday afternoon to drop to 9-10-2, good for third in the division, three points behind the St. Louis Blues and eight behind Chicago. Both have played two fewer games than Winnipeg.

Now, facing difficult road games with two division rivals, the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday and Nashville Predators on Friday, it’s tough to envision a quick recovery.

“We’ve been grinding this grind for so long and you need different people to pick you up each night, and it’s tough when seven of them aren’t there to do that for you, too,” head coach Paul Maurice said Sunday night, after a 3-1 loss to Carolina.

Rarely has he uttered a word about the players who aren’t around. Leaning on that crutch just isn’t a thing you do in pro sports.

Instead, Maurice has been quick to praise the effort of players such as Andrew Copp, Nic Petan and Marko Dano, who began the season in the AHL but have played important minutes during the rash of injuries.

“I didn’t think the guys (call-ups) were playing over their heads, I think they’re playing as hard as they could,” he said.

The Jets finished 7-8-2 in a stretch in which they played 17 games in 29 days, pretty good under the circumstances.

Last week, TSN hockey analyst Pierre LeBrun blogged about the number of serious injuries this year and whether or not the league’s compressed schedule — caused by the pre-season’s World Cup of Hockey event and the introduction of a five-day bye week in the second half of the season — has been a contributing factor.

While Dallas general manager Jim Nill agreed with the theory, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told me in Boston he isn’t so certain of that cause and effect.

“For us, four shifts into the season we lost Bryan (Little), so fatigue wasn’t a factor there,” he said.

“We’ve had a rash of different kinds of injuries that aren’t necessarily correlated to fatigue. There’s no question that it taxes your body and you need that recovery, but can you draw a comparison? I don’t know.

“I wish you could pinpoint it to something because then you would try to fix it. It’s a tough phenomenon,” he said, noting the organization planned extensively to avoid the exact situation it now finds itself in.

“From our standpoint, when we saw the schedule, you obviously see how many games we’re playing. We’ve always made a conscious effort to see how we can recover better. That’s partly for performance, but the majority is for prevention of injuries.”

The worn-down club could have one reinforcement at the Xcel Energy Center against Minnesota, which sits a point back with four games in hand.

Stafford, sidelined for the past 15 games with an upper-body injury, has been skating with Jets and will likely return Wednesday or Friday.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

History

Updated on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 11:59 AM CST: Corrects spelling error, fixes sidebar.

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