‘Patience and hard work key to beating Wild,’ says Niederreiter

Wednesday’s visitors have owned Jets this season


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When the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild meet Wednesday night at Canada Life Centre, it will be the tale of two teams headed in opposite directions.

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When the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild meet Wednesday night at Canada Life Centre, it will be the tale of two teams headed in opposite directions.

The Wild are among the hottest outfits in the NHL right now, winners of four straight and have earned a point in each of their last nine games (8-0-1). The Jets’ stock, meanwhile, dropped heavily in recent weeks, with losses in six of their last seven games, including a 3-2 overtime defeat Monday to the worst team in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks.

Still, heading into Tuesday’s action, the two Central Division rivals were separated by just three points in the standings. The Wild (36-21-6) occupy second in the division, while the Jets (36-25-3) aren’t far behind in third.

“We need to get on a roll. We know we’ve been in a tailspin, and it’s been going on for quite some time,” Jets centre Adam Lowry said after Tuesday’s practice. “Anytime you’re playing a divisional opponent you want to get the better of them and it’s going to be no different. They’ve handled us pretty handily the first two times we’ve played them and it’s important that we take the two points from them, and we start climbing back up in the standings.”

The Wild have had the Jets number this season, having won both games by a combined score of 10-2.

Minnesota bullied Winnipeg in the first matchup, earning a 6-1 victory on home ice back on Nov. 23. They did much of the same a month later, carving out a 4-1 win in downtown Winnipeg on Dec. 27.

Back then, however, the Jets weren’t nearly as desperate for a win as they are now. Given the history between the two clubs — a heated rivalry that includes the first playoff series win for Jets 2.0, in 2018, along with several more regular-season games that have packed an added punch — it’s expected to be a heated affair come puck drop.

“They are certainly a physical team. They use their size, forecheck hard. They compete hard in all three zones and kind of make sure everyone is on their toes, everyone is invested in the game,” Lowry said. “Not to say guys aren’t other times, but sometimes when the physicality ramps up, you become more aware of it on the bench, how crucial it is to be finishing your checks, how crucial it is to be winning your battles so that the defence don’t necessarily have to be going for the puck, they don’t have to pay that price with the other team’s forecheck. You kind of want to repay the favour with your own team’s forecheck.”

Lowry added, “Sometimes in the Central Division, it kind of gets back to our roots and how we want to play with a hard forechecking style and possessing the puck.”

Jets head coach Rick Bowness has preached the importance of playing with emotion, particularly over this last stretch of games that have seen the Jets, at times, look lifeless. To combat Minnesota’s relentless attack, which is built off of speed in the middle of the ice, Bowness put his players through a series of walkthrough drills at practice that replicate what they’ll see during the game.

“They play that 1-3-1, it’s hard to get through there carrying the puck. We worked on things, getting through there. We worked on our forecheck to try and slow them down, make them spend more time in their zone,” Bowness said. “They’re a good hockey club, they’ve been getting fantastic goaltending, and they’ve out played us in the two games we’ve played them. Now it’s up to us to out play them.”

Nino Niederreiter played parts of six seasons with the Wild before being acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade midway through the 2018-19 season. It’s been four years since he donned a Minnesota jersey, but he fondly remembers battling Winnipeg during those years.

Now a Jet after being dealt from Nashville at the trade deadline earlier this month, Niederreiter still has a pulse on his former club, even if several of his teammates have moved on like him. He said with the Wild you can always expect a close-fought game that is often low scoring.

There’s certainly enough evidence to back up that prediction. In Minnesota’s last 12 games, 10 of them have been decided by a single goal and in 10 of them the Wild has allowed two or fewer goals against.

So, what is the trick to winning those tightly-contested battles?

“Patience. I’d say that’s the biggest thing,” Niederreiter told the Free Press. “They are very good at being patient and knowing that from good defence you’re going to create a couple chances when the other team starts opening up or getting frustrated. That’s where they capitalize very well.”

While the Jets were fairly disciplined at the trade deadline, with Niederreiter and fellow forward Vladislav Namestnikov the only additions, the Wild went much bigger.

They added three new forwards in Oskar Sundqvist (Detroit), Gustav Nyquist (Columbus) and Marcus Johansson (Washington), as well as defenceman John Klingberg, who Bowness had in Dallas before he signed with the Anaheim Ducks this season. Minnesota also has a formidable goaltending duo in Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson, both of whom have been playing their best hockey of late.

“They have some elite skill, obviously, with guys like (Mats) Zuccarello and (Kirill) Kaprizov up front. We’re definitely going to have to stop those two to give ourselves a chance to win this hockey game,” Niederreiter said. “But we need to outmatch their work ethic because they work hard every single night. They’re moving their feet and have great sticks, so that’s what’s going to be key to getting a win.”


Twitter: @jefkhamilton

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.

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