January 20, 2020

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Jets' defensive confidence is feeding on itself

Winning five of six helps players buy what the coach is selling

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/11/2014 (1902 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While they are humming along with good goaltending, a more aware defensive scheme and even some good breaks, Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Tuesday corrected a label that's starting to be applied to his team.

"Defence-only when we don't have the puck," Maurice said after the Jets stopped the Nashville Predators 3-1 at the MTS Centre. "But it's not defence-first. It's defence at the right time."

There's been a lot of "right time" lately.

The Jets are 5-0-1 in their last six games. In that process, they have given up just six goals.

Even better, they look like they are comfortable playing exactly this kind of game. And that would be deemed progress after some trying times since the 2011 relocation.

"I think we've had some success with it lately so just in terms of that, it breeds a little buy-in to what we're doing," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "That's pretty much it. We've been patient within those tight games and comfortable with those one-goal leads and another win only builds confidence in that area."

All six games of their streak have been one-goal affairs. For argument's sake, we'll include Tuesday's, which was only sealed with Blake Wheeler's late empty-net goal.

'Dedicated'

"Being dedicated to the defensive game," was centre Mark Scheifele's answer to the question of the team looking like it's been in control of itself during these close affairs. "I think everyone's confident in each other. Everyone knows that every guy in this room is committed to defence and will do whatever it takes to keep a puck out of the net, block a shot, and I think that's the biggest thing."

Nobody's fooling themselves in downtown Winnipeg yet that the Jets have this new style and new identity mastered.

But the last six games, and maybe even a little before that, have yielded some signs the approach is starting to take hold.

"I hope they feel good going into those tight situations, that they know how they're going to react to it, that there's a calm," Maurice said. "Wins change the pressure on the bench and the confidence and then as you get further and further into a rhythm of doing the same things over and over in your own end, you start to feel comfortable there."

In particular, Maurice said, it's the buy-in and understanding of individuals that's providing a better overall look.

"We've worked hard at getting rid of the notion that the best thing we can do is try to score every time we touch the puck," he said. "Just take care of the 10 feet of ice that's around you, have as many bodies in close proximity to that so that if there's a knuckled pass or a bad break, we can shut down hard and still have people there.

"Probably, I would think earlier, the number of odd-man rushes we gave up were so much from being overly aggressive in areas where you couldn't be, where it wasn't there.

"So it wasn't from a lack of effort but almost from trying too hard to score. We gave up an odd-man rush because of that early in the game. We tried to eliminate that. But winning some close, low-scoring games allows you to make the right reads and not chase the game. We would chase the games at times at zero-zero and that led to quite a few of the early chances against in the games early in the year."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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