Win a blueprint for Jets’ future

Coach has been trying to pound this style of play into team's head

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This was just a tease. Now, if only the Winnipeg Jets would show us a little bit more.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/10/2014 (3025 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This was just a tease. Now, if only the Winnipeg Jets would show us a little bit more.

The Jets put together their best effort of the season Sunday afternoon, downing the visiting Colorado Avalanche 2-1 in overtime.

Smart, physical and timely. The Jets did everything well from the goaltender on out. It was the blueprint for how this team can win games. Limit the opposition’s prime scoring chances, generate and capitalize on offensive opportunities and stay disciplined throughout.

Trevor Hagan / THE CANADIAN PRESS Winnipeg Jets Andrew Ladd (left), Bryan Little (centre) and Michael Frolik celebrate after Ladd scored a first-period goal against the Colorado Avalanche Sunday.

Head coach Paul Maurice has been trying to tack this game plan to the inside of his players’ foreheads. They have seen it succeed. Now, Maurice must continue to coax such an effort until it becomes habit.

The early going of the Maurice era has shown the coach is not afraid to step on his veterans when he feels they need it and to give young players increasingly long leashes.

Second-year men Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele are being given the opportunity to take on larger roles on a nightly basis. The same goes for rookie Adam Lowry. Maurice sees the future and realizes if he’s ever going to win a playoff game as coach of the Jets, these players will have to flourish. So he’s making the future the present, and being rewarded with strong and ever-improving play.

The present, however, still hangs very much on the core group assembled by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. At the heart of those players is the duo of Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd.

Little is still this team’s most effective centre and Ladd is still the player best suited to ride sidecar. Friday night they were dreadful in a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Sunday they led, accounting for both the team’s goals.

Ladd scored from the crease in the first period and Little had the winner in overtime. Saturday morning, Maurice spent a good five minutes on the ice with the pair following the formal part of practice. The message was clear: Be better.

Following Sunday’s game, Maurice shone a light on how he wants Ladd and Little to play.

“Bryan and Andrew had a tough night there (Friday). They both came back and put a good leader effort in tonight,” said Maurice. “When they play well defensively, we get their best production. When they try to stretch and force the offence, they’re not as effective.”

This, of course, could be said about the entire Jets lineup. Following Sunday’s game Winnipeg is ranked 14th in the league in goals-against, with a per-game average of 2.62. Offensively, the Jets are 28th, scoring at a clip of 1.88 goals per game. Winnipeg’s goal differential is minus-6 and they sit last in the Western Conference with a 3-5-0 record for six points.

Maurice has emphatically stated the No. 1 priority for the Jets this season is to improve their goals-against number. They finished last season ranked 22nd in the NHL at 2.82 goals-against per game. It’s early, but already they’ve trimmed more than a goal a game from that number. Maurice is having a positive impact in the area he deems the most critical.

Sunday, the coach’s strategy and focus resulted in a win. Everything came together. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec made key saves at timely moments to keep the Jets either in front or even with the Avalanche.

Defensive-zone coverage was a strength rather than a shortcoming. The forward corps was patient and resisted cheating.

It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was winning hockey and that’s something the Jets haven’t been able to grasp and hold for long stretches over the three-plus seasons in Winnipeg.

The question with this group, as always it seems, is where will they go from here? Will Sunday’s result provide positive reinforcement and draw them back to the same well? Or will they revert to the losing habits so deeply ingrained in their collective psyche?

Sunday’s game was an example of the Maurice effect the organization spoke of this summer. It showed a path towards this group of players being more than a .500 team.

The reality, however, is this team has been shown this path before. Former Jets coach Claude Noel got this group to play proper and winning hockey for stretches before the players deluded themselves into thinking their way was better.

Noel got the Jets to take a test drive. But when they got back to the showroom he couldn’t close the deal.

Maurice convinced the Jets to try it his way on Sunday. Now he has to get them to buy. To sign a binding contract and to live the details of the deal.

All in, all the time. The sale of the century, if Maurice can close it.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter @garylawless

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