Let’s get some grudges going

Intensity bound to rise during triple-header

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Three straight regular-season games against the same opponent is a rarity in the National Hockey League, the type of mini-series you typically only see in Major League Baseball. But COVID-19 protocols, border closures and an attempt to cut down on travel and expenses have made them a reality in this unusual 2021 season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/01/2021 (747 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Three straight regular-season games against the same opponent is a rarity in the National Hockey League, the type of mini-series you typically only see in Major League Baseball. But COVID-19 protocols, border closures and an attempt to cut down on travel and expenses have made them a reality in this unusual 2021 season.

So it was interesting to see how both the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators were approaching back-to-back-to-back meetings, which began Tuesday night in the nation’s capital, continue Thursday at Canadian Tire Centre and wrap up Saturday night at Bell MTS Place.

Think playoff mentality coupled with sloppy early season execution and intensity that should build as the week goes on.

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Sami Niku (8) and Ottawa Senators left wing Brady Tkachuk (7) fall to the ice during third period NHL action in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

“The first game… if you want to look at it as a three-game series, the first game is huge. We want to come out and set the tone right away. It’s going to lead to more physical games, especially down the road. The emotion that comes into the games because of that is a good thing,” Jets defenceman Derek Forbort said prior to puck drop on Tuesday.

Winnipeg has recent playoff experience to draw upon, dropping Game 1 of a best-of-five series against the Calgary Flames in the Edmonton bubble last August and ultimately being eliminated in four games.

They drew first blood with a 4-3, come-from-behind overtime victory against the Senators.

“I’m sure you’re gonna have some carry-over from game to game and we love it. That’s hockey and it’s kind of those games within a game when you’re playing against a team that many times in a row. It should be fun,” said Jets forward Nate Thompson.

Ottawa has been on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs for the last three seasons, but the rebuilding Senators want to get back to the dance as quickly as possible. This three-game span will have to do, at least for now.

“I think we’re going to approach it like a mini playoff series here. I think it’s really big to get out of the gate huge and set the tone in Game 1. The first game is massive in a three-game stretch. We want to be in the lead and not chasing it,” said Senators forward Chris Tierney.

The stakes may not be quite as high as a post-season matchup, as both teams will get to keep playing once they go their separate ways. But in a 56-game campaign, with every contest happening within the division, the results carry plenty of importance.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said there would typically be plenty of video review when you’re playing the same opponent multiple times, which isn’t always the case in a “one and done” situation where you immediately move on to the next city and next opponent.

But this particular series may be different, with both clubs still trying to find their identities.

“I think all teams at this point of the season, so early, aren’t making an awful lot of adjustments off their foundation. They’re just trying to get their foundation set,” said Maurice.

“So before we make wrinkles to our forecheck or our neutral zone or whether we’re stretching or we’re not, we need to make sure we’ve got the foundation set and every year, especially when it seems like you’ve got this huge block between seasons, getting your foundation set at the start, and I would say in a regular season you’re talking about the first 20-25 games, I don’t know if there’s as many adjustments as you might think early in the season.”

Jets captain Blake Wheeler said there’s always danger in thinking too far ahead. But settling into a familiar rhythm and routine is important, especially early in a new campaign.

“We had a 10-day training camp and a team with some new faces on it, and you don’t just forge an identity by saying or talking, you forge an identity by your actions,” he said. “We’ll worry about the next game after (Tuesday night).”

SPEAKING OF THE “NEW NORMAL”: Four Carolina Hurricanes players were placed on COVID-protocol Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of their scheduled game in Nashville. It’s the second outbreak so far in the league, following one in Dallas in which 18 players tested positive.

Winnipeg has also had a couple scares, with winger Nikolaj Ehlers entering protocol for a day last week (he tested negative), and defenceman Tucker Poolman currently in it and not on the road trip.

“Certainly, there’s a lot of things at play right now and teams that manage those things the best are going to be the ones that are going to have the most success. You’re not dealing with the typical injuries in an NHL season, you’re dealing with serious health circumstances that are definitely new to all of us,” said Wheeler.

“So, it creates a different environment, a little bit more anxiety in terms of just the nature of the world. But that’s part of the ’20-21 NHL season.”

LAINE OUT AGAIN: Sniper Patrik Laine missed a second straight game with an upper-body injury. He had two goals, including the overtime winner, and an assist in Winnipeg’s 4-3 season opening victory over Calgary last Thursday, but was unable to dress for Monday night’s game in Toronto. He’s considered day-to-day at this point, although specifics of what he’s dealing with haven’t been released by the team.

“He was down at the ice (Tuesday morning). He got treatment. We don’t feel he’s ready to go, so we’ll hold him out another day,” said Maurice.

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

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.

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