Weary Jets look to rebound

Return home offers Winnipeg fresh chances after rough road trip

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It was just one short week ago that life was pretty sweet for the Winnipeg Jets. They were coming off another lopsided home victory that put them on top of the NHL standings and had them carrying plenty of momentum.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/12/2017 (1816 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was just one short week ago that life was pretty sweet for the Winnipeg Jets. They were coming off another lopsided home victory that put them on top of the NHL standings and had them carrying plenty of momentum.

But things quickly soured as they hit the road, coming up empty against desperate opponents in Detroit and Florida before salvaging a point with an overtime loss against league-leading Tampa Saturday night.

“I don’t think we were as sharp and quick as we’re capable of being. But pretty good fight. You like in a game like this that you get better as the game goes on. I thought we did that. We’ve got a better game to play. We looked like we’ve seen both oceans here a couple of times in the last month,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said following the game.

CHRIS O'MEARA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) bats the puck away from Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey (44) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.

Disappointing, but hardly a disaster.

However, there is danger lurking ahead if the Jets can’t quickly steer the ship back towards smoother waters.

“For us, obviously, we want to come away with two points, but it was a big effort for us on the end of a road trip. We didn’t like our first two games of the trip here. (Saturday) was a really good performance. I thought we played well enough to win. Got some great goaltending. When it goes to overtime, you want to get that win, but it is what it is, and I thought we battled very hard,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said.

Winnipeg will look to snap their mini-skid tonight as they kick another critical stretch, by hosting the Vancouver Canucks at Bell MTS Place.

It marks the end of a gruelling stretch of playing 15 games over 28 days.

After back-to-back days off for the first time in a month, the Jets play four games in six nights against Central division rivals, beginning Thursday against Chicago, Saturday in St. Louis, Sunday at home to the Blues and next Tuesday in Nashville.

That’s followed by road games against Boston and the New York Islanders prior to the Christmas break.

One of the key questions for the Jets is the health of a couple of players. Dustin Byfuglien left Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury and did not return.

The Jets didn’t hold a media availability Sunday, so his status heading into tonight’s game is unknown.

“Obviously, it’s tough when guys go down to an injury there. But at the same time, as a player, what you want is to play, and you try to relish that opportunity to get some extra minutes and step up for the team when you need guys to fill those extra minutes. Definitely, I thought we handled it well as a back end for the game,” Morrissey said following the game.

If Byfuglien is unable to go, Tucker Poolman would get the nod for his fourth game of the season.

Goalie Steve Mason is getting closer to a return following a concussion, and should soon be an option.

Connor Hellebuyck has been carrying a heavy workload lately, and is showing signs of slowing down after a sizzling start.

Another growing area of concern for Winnipeg has to be its overtime woes — the Jets are 0-for-5 in the five-minute, three-on-three format this season.

That’s five lost points, which could certainly be valuable down the road.

“Well, I know we were pretty close to the best in the NHL at three-on-three last year. I think we scored a lot. I know it’s there. We didn’t have a lot of jump. It’s nothing overly technical,” Maurice said when asked how concerned he is.

Then there’s the matter of Mathieu Perreault, a clear top-six player who continues to be stuck on the so-called fourth line with the Jets.

He played just 7:53 Saturday night — getting him more ice time has to be a priority.

Finally, the Jets will look to return to a more defensively sound system, one which saw them become one of the toughest teams to score against — at least until last week, when they gave up 14 goals in three games (plus an empty-netter).

“Paul talked about it a lot. We have the offensive abilities in our room and it’s going to come from playing our structure,” Morrissey said.

“You’re going to get those opportunities, two-on-ones, chances in the slot just by playing within our game. Our skill will come out that way.

“The last two games, we maybe were trying to force some of the offence.

“We got a lot of chances off it, but I don’t think, as a team, we need to do that to get those chances, because we have the guys with those offensive minds up front who can make those plays.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

History

Updated on Sunday, December 10, 2017 11:36 PM CST: Story edited

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