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This article was published 19/2/2019 (1186 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice admits he wasn’t exactly a treat to be around. And, quite frankly, his players weren’t having a lot of fun, either.
And so the unusual decision was made to give everyone a bit more breathing room with two straight days off following Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. It was the second defeat in eight days to the NHL’s worst team, giving the Jets a 2-3-2 record over their last seven games.
"I thought they needed some rest. It’s a pretty competitive environment. The coach is grumpy, using bad language, and sometimes you need two days not to yell at anybody," Maurice said Tuesday as his team regrouped at Bell MTS Iceplex for an hour-long practice.
"We’re sitting at 76 points because we’ve done a lot of hard work, played hard, fought through long stretches with guys out. So, I have faith in this group. But we weren’t happy with our game. And the coach was being an ass all week. So, I needed to be away from them, too. It was good for everybody."
Now the question is whether his troops will respond as they kick off a tough stretch of hockey tonight in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche (24-24-11). The Jets (36-19-4) will play seven of their next nine games on the road and against some of the league’s top teams, including Vegas, Nashville, Tampa and Washington.
"Awesome, awesome opportunity to find your game. You can feel good at home, and we’re still a real good home team. You can find your game on the road. A road win, where everybody’s on the bus together, everybody’s on the plane together, you can get a real good bounce off that," Maurice said.
"Some teams like going on the road because they don’t want to play at home because they’re struggling at home. We like playing at home. We play well here. But going on the road is a good challenge."
Winnipeg’s challenge will get a bit tougher with the news Tuesday defenceman that Dustin Byfuglien is once again out with a lower-body injury. He won’t make the road trip and will be looked at again in about a week.
"Over a five-, six-day block we’ll evaluate it and hope it settles down and we get good news," Maurice said. "He’s got to get more tests done so we know exactly what we’re looking at. I’m hopeful it’s not (long-term). I’m feeling pretty confident it’s not. But the tests are going to tell us."
Byfuglien suffered an ankle injury on Dec. 29 and missed 15 games, returning to the lineup on Feb. 7. But in his fifth game back last Thursday against Colorado, a new injury emerged, according to Maurice.
Defenceman Joe Morrow is also out of the lineup for at least the next two weeks. That means Sami Niku likely stays in, and Tucker Poolman was also called up from the Manitoba Moose on Tuesday to give the team seven healthy blue-liners.
Maurice said the decision to cancel Monday’s practice was based on his assessment of the team, which just finished a span of 11 games in 20 days, including a pair of road trips out east.
"I didn’t think being on the ice yesterday was going to make us any better at all. It was just a feeling. We haven’t been right in our games, that energy, that pop. It’s kind of the fountain that everything comes from with our team. So, if we’re not jumping and all the things fall off, our hands just aren’t right, our reads are just a little bit slow," Maurice said.
"And we come back here (Tuesday) and it’s a good practice, right? The meetings are good, the guys are back into it, they’re kind of happy to see each other, there’s lots of chatter in the room. At least for today I like the result that we got from getting a little more rest."
Forward Mathieu Perreault believes the Jets will come out energized against the Avalanche.
"We haven’t been playing very good lately, so I think that was the main goal of it, just get us away from hockey, do something else so you can come back and be excited to be here," Perreault said. "Even today coming to the rink, I can feel the excitement. Guys are happy to be here. You felt it on the ice and in the gym before. It’s kind of nice to be back at the rink."
Although the Jets are in a good spot and qualifying for the playoffs is pretty much a lock, Perreault said it’s time to step up the urgency with 23 games left on the regular-season schedule.
"We’ve just got to be better. We expect ourselves to do a lot more than what we’ve done the last couple weeks. Just go back to the way we were playing earlier in the year and we should be fine," he said. "You’ve got to dig deep and bring that energy and the fight that you need to win hockey games in this league. So, I think that’s why those two days to get away, just re-energize so you can come and just be excited about playing a hockey game."
There’s been some suggestion the Feb. 25 trade deadline is having an effect, but Perreault was quick to shoot that down.
"I don’t think so. We’re definitely excited with where our team’s at right now. We’re looking to win the Stanley Cup. So, we’re looking at it in the way where we can maybe get a player and make our team better, so it’s more of an exciting moment and time for us. We’re more excited than anything else," he said.
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.