Jets plan to push throttle in second half

Inconsistent start to season due to injuries, youth put in the past

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BUFFALO — The Winnipeg Jets celebrated the midway mark of the 2016-17 NHL season Wednesday with a win over the Florida Panthers. After the game, Jets head coach Paul Maurice spoke candidly when asked to sum up the first half of the year, choosing a word perhaps better suited to describe the life of soldiers rather than professional hockey players.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/01/2017 (2224 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BUFFALO — The Winnipeg Jets celebrated the midway mark of the 2016-17 NHL season Wednesday with a win over the Florida Panthers. After the game, Jets head coach Paul Maurice spoke candidly when asked to sum up the first half of the year, choosing a word perhaps better suited to describe the life of soldiers rather than professional hockey players.

“Survival,” said Maurice, with his team at 19-19-3.

That’s not to say the word wasn’t valid. After all, the Jets have battled injuries for much of the season. At one point, Winnipeg was without six forwards and a defenceman for almost the entire month of November.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jets head coach Paul Maurice shouts instructions to his players during practice at the MTS Centre.

To make matters worse, many of the players sidelined were veterans, including Mathieu Perreault (14 games), Bryan Little (23), Drew Stafford (15) and Shawn Matthias (25).

Defenceman Tyler Myers, out with a lower-body injury since early November, only started skating this week. He isn’t expected to return for at least another week and will miss his 25th game when the Jets hit the ice today to wrap up a three-game road trip with a tilt against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center.

With so many on the shelf, the Jets were left with an inexperienced lineup, dotted with a number of first- and second-year players. Though it provided some valuable playing time for many of the youngest players, the results were mixed.

With that in mind, Maurice was asked to revisit his evaluation through 41 games following the team’s practice Friday in Buffalo.

“There’s a real asterisk there beside it,” Maurice said, “because we haven’t seen our team very long.

“Those seven guys were out for a while… and so you’ve got a lot of players playing out of position and it is tough with that schedule and those injuries to get on any kind of roll,” he said.

“We pushed real hard. There’s a big cost to some of our veteran guys to drive the team and we were a little short-legged a few nights in that stretch. We’ll have to get it going soon.”

At their current pace, the Jets project to finish the season with 81 points, a number far outside a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference.

Given they have yet to put together a three-game winning streak, it’s a tough sell to suggest they’ll be able to do that.

Three teams and one point separated Winnipeg from the final wild-card spot heading into Friday’s games, but each team had at least one game in hand, with one holding a three-game advantage.

“I don’t talk about the standings,” Maurice said. “I don’t talk about any of that in the room. It’s on a board somewhere; they can look at it if they like. (Winning) two out of three (games) for the rest (of the season) would be fine.

“If we don’t go on a three-game winning streak, we’ll be alright.”

Chris O'Meara / The Associated Press Files Jets captain Blake Wheeler knows his team will have to play as well as it did during a recent 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lighnting if it hopes to reach the playoffs.

As difficult as it will be for the Jets to reach such vast improvements in the second half, they do believe they’re starting to turn the corner — and it started with getting healthy. Since late December — a stretch of seven games — the Jets have iced the kind of lineup they envisioned when the season began.

Although there have been some big disappointments in recent weeks, including a dismal performance in a loss to the New York Islanders on New Year’s Eve, there have also been bright spots.

That includes this week’s wins over Tampa Bay and Florida. Most promising, they were the result of a full-team effort — from the stellar play of goalie Connor Hellebuyck to the defence limiting time and space around the net to the offence finally finding its scoring touch, with 10 goals in the last six periods.

“That’s the next step for our team is realizing so much offence in this league is created by forcing the other team to do too much, to get bored with the style of play we’re trying to play and feeding off those turnovers,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. “We generated quite a bit of offence by playing good sound defence as a team.”

Even with the recent success, the Jets know they still have a ways to go as they approach the back half of the schedule.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Wheeler said. “You can’t say you’re a finished product after getting two wins. Kind of the theme of our season has been inconsistency. We’ve looked really good some games and then kind of failed to put together kind of a long stretch of playing that way.

“We’re into the second half of the season now. Guys have played enough games to realize what type of team we are and we’re going to look for a complete buy-in in here.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

History

Updated on Saturday, January 7, 2017 8:04 AM CST: Edited

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