Jets need to be ready from opening faceoff

Tenacious Hurricanes exposed lack of readiness for high-level competition

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If chronically entertaining Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt had the flexibility of a contortionist to twist and boot himself squarely in the butt Wednesday afternoon, he would have done it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/12/2021 (254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If chronically entertaining Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt had the flexibility of a contortionist to twist and boot himself squarely in the butt Wednesday afternoon, he would have done it.

While wearing a freshly sharpened skate.

Admittedly, Schmidt appreciated very little of his own performance at Canada Life Centre the night before in a 4-2 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes and committed to improve both his energy and execution during the NHL team’s brief western road trip.

Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44), Blake Wheeler (26) and Nate Schmidt (88) go after Carolina Hurricanes’ Ian Cole (28) during the third period of NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday December 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44), Blake Wheeler (26) and Nate Schmidt (88) go after Carolina Hurricanes’ Ian Cole after Cole committed a knee-on-knee hit against Mark Scheifele. Cole received a five-minute major and game misconduct on the play.

“I can’t speak for everybody but I wasn’t particularly thrilled with my brand (Tuesday) night,” he said, after a 40-minute practice. The Jets had an early afternoon departure for Seattle and will face the expansion Kraken for the first time Thursday night.

“You look at the game, the minutes were there for me. I gotta have a better jump to my step. That’s my game, right? I know as an entire group we didn’t have that but I can’t really control the other 19 guys. I can control mine. That’s why everyone, including myself, tried to get your feet moving, get your momentum and your pace a lot higher, to be prepared to play (in Seattle).”

Schmidt eclipsed the 25-minute mark for ice time for only the second time this season, including 7:10 on a power-play unit that succeeded just once in five tries. The low point was its failure to launch on a five-minute man advantage, while trailing by two with 12 minutes still left in the final frame.

Winnipeg Jets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois (80) deflects the puck past Carolina Hurricanes’ goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) for a goal during the second period of NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday December 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press Winnipeg Jets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois (80) scored one of only two goals for the home team Tuesday against the Hurricanes.

Hurricanes defenceman Ian Cole was ejected and later fined US$5,000 by the NHL’s department of safety for kneeing Mark Scheifele. The Jets centre wasn’t hurt on the play.

The Jets induced no pain on the protracted 5-on-4, either, generating just two shots as Carolina’s aggressive approach worked wonders.

“(The objective was) Let’s try and make them pay for it, at least get one and then build some momentum,” veteran centre Paul Stastny said. “But I think by the end of that, frustration was obviously setting in… we didn’t have anything. Maybe we had a shot or two, but we didn’t have any sustained pressure or we didn’t touch the puck or really control it at all and then as the power play went on, guys were getting frustrated so we were trying to do it individually and then it just feeds into their game.”

Winnipeg (12-9-4) had pasted together impressive home victories over the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs before falling to the Hurricanes.

The squad was without Neal Pionk, not only because he served the first of a two-game suspension but also due to the fact he’s recovering from a concussion. Winnipeg recalled defenceman Ville Heinola from the American Hockey League as the team gears up for a Thursday battle in Seattle and a clash with the Vancouver Canucks just 24 hours later.

The Central Division team has exactly 20 healthy bodies and will now carry an extra blue-liner this week. Heinola, 20, has two goals and 12 assists in 18 games with the Manitoba Moose this season.

The Jets knew exactly what was in store for them during a visit from the quick, tenacious Hurricanes, and yet the hosts responded with neither the speed nor the stamina to get the job done against one of the league’s upper-echelon teams.

So, the last practice before doing battle with a pair of Pacific Division teams was a not-so-subtle reminder from head coach Paul Maurice of what traits are expected of his group moving forward.

While it wasn’t lengthy in duration, the pace was rapid-fire and the drills were designed to mimic man-on-man battle in the offensive and defensive zones that require churning skates, pumping arms and lively sticks.

“It was about our feet defensively and our feet offensively. We just didn’t move our feet (Tuesday) night. We didn’t move them to defend and we certainly didn’t move them when we had the puck,” said Maurice. “So, the easiest way to work on that is almost in a one on one, where you don’t really get to hide on those things. It was confrontational in the one on one but it was solely about how quick we move defensively and offensively.

“Even on the two-on-ones that we were in out of the corners, it was just about we’ve got an odd-man (situation) and we’ve got to get that thing to the net with more speed on our feet.”

Stastny said it’s far easier to wipe the slate clean after a lopsided loss, such as a 7-1 walloping by the Wild in St. Paul, Minn., on Nov. 26, than it is to be confounded as the Jets were by the ‘Canes.

He said the Metropolitan Division team is a good measuring stick, and demonstrates how the Jets must perform to win consistently.

“I don’t know if we laid an egg or it’s just one of those, like I said, we’re not all in. I think in a game like that, if we’re not all in together, guys are kind of committed to playing one way, we get picked apart,” said Stastny.

“(Carolina) is a perfect example of having four lines, six defencemen and they kind of all play the same way. You know what you’re getting out of each guy. Yeah, they have guys who make skilled plays but they’re all backchecking, they’re all playing two-way hockey, they’re all getting in on the forecheck. No one is watching the play, they are all kind of skating a unit of five.”

Maurice said he shoulders the blame for his team’s struggles to push with force through the neutral zone and create scoring opportunities, beyond Nikolaj Ehlers laser beam and a nifty deflection from Pierre-Luc Dubois with Carolina a man short.

“I don’t subscribe to the off-night theory. We all have a job to perform… I critique myself, so we weren’t ready for that game, even though it was clearly defined,” he said. “Our chance to rectify that comes (Thursday).”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

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).

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