Jets’ final dress rehearsal
Tilt against Maple Leafs last chance to get game right before playoffs
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/05/2021 (631 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The stage has officially been set for the Winnipeg Jets. Their pursuit of the Stanley Cup begins against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place Wednesday night.
The NHL released the full schedule of the first round of the NHL postseason on Thursday, putting real dates and times to matchups that had been determined earlier this week. But before the Jets embark on what they hope will be a stretch of hockey that takes them right into the summer, a final dress rehearsal remains Friday, as Winnipeg welcomes the Toronto Maple Leafs to town for the conclusion of their 56-game regular season.
For the Leafs, a matchup with the Jets is pretty much meaningless. Toronto has been atop the Canadian division since opening night in January and, most recently, has earned points in nine straight games (7-0-2).
As for the Jets, while a win or loss won’t affect their third-place finish, there’s certainly more at play here. Winnipeg is coming off a 5-0 dismantling of the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday, but the victory has offered only a brief respite from what’s been a challenging month. The Jets have won just twice in their last 11 games, with all nine of those losses coming in regulation time.
Indeed, given all that has gone wrong of late for the Jets, what should be a pointless game Friday is instead a much-needed building block to the postseason.
“Probably for both teams it’s about trying to get your game tuned up for the next one, which is obviously when it really matters. They are going to win the division here and have been basically at the top of division all year. Of course, you want to play well against them; you need to be ready to go,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said after Thursday’s practice.
“But I think our focus is on ourselves and trying to get our game… it’s one last tune up, really, for the playoffs and we’re going to try to bring a game that we can use against Edmonton and so that’s where our heads are at. We’ve got a lot of work to do in between. We’re sort of on the task at hand and on our own room and preparing for that series.”
The Jets won’t be icing the lineup against the Leafs they’ll deploy next week versus the Oilers. Andrew Copp was absent from practice and will be held out of action. The same goes for defenceman Tucker Poolman, who was in a non-contact jersey Friday and will miss a third straight game due to a lower-body injury.
When asked about his team’s overall health, Jets head coach Paul Maurice said the only real concern for the playoffs is the status of forward Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers has missed the last eight games with a shoulder injury and though he’s resumed skating, and started to add shooting to his solo workouts, he remains questionable for the start of the postseason.
Maurice has been conscious not to overwork his minutes-leaders, running four lines a lot more consistently than he’s used to over the last few games. He’ll take the same approach against the Leafs, understanding that another banged up player will only add to what seems like an already large mountain to climb in stopping Connor McDavid and the high-powered Oilers.
The Jets bench boss also isn’t expecting a nasty affair against the Leafs, especially with Toronto likely more interested in preserving their collective health, too, as they plan to take a deep run at the Stanley Cup.
“Injuries can really change a series at any time. There is a threshold for every NHL team, that you get to a certain level you’re going to have a difficult time beating another playoff team — if you get that beat up,” Maurice said.
“I think there is going to be a lot of puck movement (Friday), it’ll be a fast game, but I think you’ll find most guys running fairly short routes in terms of finishing checks. There is almost — this is going to sound terrible for hockey — a gentleman’s agreement. I don’t think you’re going to see any late hits. Both teams are getting ready. There will be a certain amount of respect on the ice. Play hard, play fast, then if it happens that something gets away — a hit that’s not liked — it can get real ugly, real quick. But I don’t expect that.”
He added: “You want to get out, you want to get a good feeling, it’s the last game before we get going. It won’t have the same animosity because there’s nothing really on the line for anybody, other than both teams trying to get that good feeling.”
That good feeling for the Jets will come with playing a consistent brand of hockey. While the losses have piled up, the Jets believe they’ve been getting closer to a style of game that should he successful come playoffs.
“Every day I feel like we’ve gotten better. You look at the last three or four games, the amount of chances we’ve given up and the kind of chances we’ve given up have gone down a lot. Earlier in the year we were really plagued by giving up a lot of rush chances. That’s something we have continually tried to work on,” Jets centre Adam Lowry said. “I think that’s all you can ask for is improvement over the course of the year. Now the slate’s wiped clean after the game (Friday) and we’re looking to really go into the playoffs feeling good about our game and giving us the best chance to win every night.”
Another consideration is the debate of rest over rust. The Jets hands are somewhat tied here, given how close they are to the salary cap and therefore what little wiggle room they have to work with when it comes to taking out or inserting players into the lineup.
Maurice said it’s usually up to the player to decide what they need. With the playoffs not starting until Wednesday, not having to deal with a quick turn-around will entice most to play and resist going a full week between action.
Included in that list is goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who has voiced his desire to play and is set to get the start against the Leafs. But that also doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily finish the night in net.
“For him it’s all rhythm. To have played, then sit that many days out, it’s not what he wants to do. He wants to get into the game,” Maurice said “We’ll monitor his workload a lot more closely than we would in a normal game. He wants to play, and he wants to play the whole game. We’ll start with that.”
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.
Updated on Thursday, May 13, 2021 6:07 PM CDT: Corrects name of Edmonton arena