Battle-tested coach needs to keep Jets on right track

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ST. PAUL, MINN. — So you know those movies where there’s a mob hit and the cops all show up afterward and there’s a hundred witnesses standing in the street but everyone denies seeing anything?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/04/2018 (1697 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ST. PAUL, MINN. — So you know those movies where there’s a mob hit and the cops all show up afterward and there’s a hundred witnesses standing in the street but everyone denies seeing anything?

Winnipeg Jets practice was like that here on Monday, one day after Jets defenceman Tyler Myers was injured in an awkward collision with the Minnesota Wild’s Marcus Foligno that some people think might have been more sinister than accidental on Foligno’s part.

So what did the Jets think of the Foligno hit? Did they agree with those who felt replays of the hit showed Foligno reaching out and deliberately punching Myers in the back of the knee as both men fell?

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice yells at an official during game against the Minnesota Wild.

Maybe all the whiteouts of the past week have made them snowblind because the message from the Jets dressing room on Monday was that nobody saw anything and you can’t prove otherwise:

Ben Chiarot? “I haven’t seen it.”

Mark Scheifele? “I haven’t seen it yet.”

Josh Morrissey? “It was tough to see because it was so tight to the boards.”

Bryan Little? “I didn’t really see it.”

Even Blake Wheeler, the only Jet I could find who admitted seeing the hit on Myers, insisted he didn’t really see it.

“I saw it live, it was right in front of the bench,” said Wheeler, who gets credit for at least conceding the obvious. “But I haven’t seen the replay, so I can’t really comment on it.”

Now, I suppose it’s possible some guys didn’t see the hit on Myers— it happened fast and it happened right alongside the boards beneath the Jets bench.

But the idea that this group of young men, who are as umbilically tethered to their smartphones as everyone else these days, hadn’t seen any of the hundreds of replays of the hit all over the internet on Monday morning stretches all credulity.

Still, you’ve got to hand it to them: the Jets were as disciplined in their message off the ice Monday as they were undisciplined in their play on it Sunday night in an ugly 6-2 loss to the Wild in Game 3 that narrowed the Jets’ lead to 2-1 in this opening round best-of-seven playoff series.

The subdued response Monday to the Myers hit has Paul Maurice’s fingerprints all over it.

On a team desperately lacking playoff experience, the Jets’ head coach has plenty of it and he’d have told his charges that in the fishbowl that is a Stanley Cup playoff series — in which every word and action is examined and re-examined, over and over again — there was no upside to the Jets getting into a public war of words with the Wild about who did what to whom.

Instead, Maurice did the talking for his team, telling reporters on Monday that: yes, unlike his players, he had examined the hit on Myers; no, in fact, he wasn’t pleased with it — or that the NHL had decided there’d be no supplementary discipline for Foligno; And yes, seeing as you ask, he probably would like to say more about the whole situation if only it wouldn’t mean he’d be fined for criticizing the league and its officials.

“There are,” Maurice said with a grin, “very clear guidelines as to my opinions.”

Put it all together and it was a savvy response to a difficult situation from a guy who was coaching in his 60th career playoff game Sunday night and has learned from experience that there’s no good that comes in the playoffs from firing up your opponent on the ice with things you say off of it.

On the contrary, Maurice would like to turn down the temperature of this series, not raise it, heading into Game 4 Tuesday.

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno, left, tangles with Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers in the first period of their game on Sunday. Myers would later leave the game after getting injured during a collision with Foligno.

Both teams spent much of the first period Sunday night hacking, slashing and cross-checking and Maurice knows that is a losing game for a Jets team that is built upon a single foundation: speed.

“All the other pieces stem from that,” Maurice said Monday. “That’s the key piece to what we do and any of the symptoms that come after aren’t really important. It’s the disease of slowness and that’s what cost us (Sunday’s) game.”

By reducing Sunday’s debacle to a single cause like that, Maurice is hoping the message to his team is what went so wrong for one night can just as easily go right again tonight.

It’s a simple and easily digestible message for a young team that is fragile right now. So much has gone right for the Jets this remarkable season that the one thing they haven’t had to deal with too much was adversity.

But they’re dealing with some now, although how much exactly remains a secret. Maurice refused to say anything on Monday about Myers’ status for the rest of this series, but the fact he didn’t practise Monday cannot be good news.

Myers has two goals in this series and has been playing some of his best hockey of late. Losing him for even one game, much less the rest of the series, would be a blow to the Jets.

The Wild and their fans suddenly smell blood in a series in which almost nobody was giving Minnesota any chance to beat a Jets team that had the second-best record in the NHL this season.

A Wild win Tuesday would even the series and give Minnesota all the momentum heading back to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Friday.

We have reached a critical moment for this Jets franchise and Maurice knows it.

This is a man who took the Carolina Hurricanes to a conference final and the Stanley Cup final. He’s been there. He’s done that. And he’s got the kind of team right now that makes getting that far again — and maybe even farther — very doable.

But before the Jets can do that, they have to do this. On a team that’s adopted the playoff slogan ‘Drivers Wanted,’ it’s Maurice who is the conductor of this train. Keeping it on the rails right now is going to require a perfect touch.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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.

History

Updated on Monday, April 16, 2018 7:40 PM CDT: Fixes errors in date for next game.

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