VANCOUVER — It can be difficult to relax in the middle of a gruelling National Hockey League season, especially one where expectations are sky-high and your team is in the midst of one of its busiest stretches.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/12/2018 (1075 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

VANCOUVER — It can be difficult to relax in the middle of a gruelling National Hockey League season, especially one where expectations are sky-high and your team is in the midst of one of its busiest stretches.

But the Winnipeg Jets were able to briefly put aside their pursuit of being No. 1 to focus on being at one with themselves in advance of Saturday night's game with the Vancouver Canucks.

Players took part in a team yoga session Friday, where sun salutations and downward dogs replaced the typical hockey lingo of keeping shifts short and getting pucks deep.

"We have a place in Winnipeg that we occasionally go to, trying to explore different ways for recovery. I was telling someone this story, my first year in the league, I think I got the job Nov. 7, and the first day off I believe was Dec. 15. And it never crossed my mind to give them a day off. So now we clearly know a lot better than we used to," Jets coach Paul Maurice said following Saturday's morning skate at Rogers Arena.

"We’re looking for ways of active recovery, where they’re doing something and they get a bump from it. So we came in here and Dr. (Craig) Slaunwhite (director of fitness for the Jets) a big chunk of what he does is research and try to find places that we can do that. So we try to take advantage of it."

Just don't expect Maurice to lead any future sessions.

"Uh, no. It’s not obvious?" he said, motioning to his own body in response to a question about whether he's a yoga guy.

Patrik Laine was asked for his assessment as to how the team building exercise went. As always, the Finnish sniper didn't disappoint.

"I’m not the biggest fan of yoga, if I’m being honest. I’m not very good at it. But it was actually pretty relaxing, especially when we were just lying down with our eyes closed. I’m really good at that. If you actually have to do something, I’m not very good at it. But it was a lot of fun," said Laine.

Tyler Myers said he's also a much better hockey player than yogi but feels everyone took something positive from the experience.

"I’ve done it a little bit before. I wouldn’t say I’m good at it. It’s a nice recovery session, get the bodies feeling good again after the game the night before. Making sure we’re feeling good for (Saturday night)," said the veteran defenceman.

***

With their moment of Zen behind them, the Jets were hoping to head into the holidays with two more points in the bank as they wrapped up their pre-Christmas schedule.

Standing in their way was a surging Canucks squad that entered play 6-1-1 in the past eight to climb back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

"A completely different team then we saw the last time. I think they had seven guys out the last time we saw them. We had pretty good control that game, start to finish," Maurice said Saturday of that 6-3 Winnipeg victory last month.

"Whenever Vancouver’s been healthy, and this goes back to the start of last year, I’ve liked their game, I’ve liked their team, they play hard, they play quick. Transition quick. Lots of speed when they’re going. And now they’ve added another touch of skill to their lineup that they didn’t have last year. You get into a Canadian market where maybe you’ve struggled a little bit, when you get on a roll, man, you can get dangerous, get the crowd behind you."

The Jets are sitting pretty on top of both the Central Division and the West, thanks largely to a 10-2-0 run heading into Saturday while both Nashville and Colorado have stumbled lately. Winnipeg split the first two games of this western swing, falling 4-1 in Los Angeles Tuesday night and then beating San Jose 5-3 Thursday night.

Backup goalie Laurent Brossoit started Saturday night for Winnipeg. He's gone 7-0-1 record in his first eight starts this season. Adam Lowry missed a second-straight game with an upper-body injury, and Andrew Copp sat out his 10th straight as he recovers from concussion symptoms.

"Our expectation is that both of them will be in the lineup against Calgary," Maurice said, referring to the Jets first game out of the Christmas break on Dec. 27 against the Flames at Bell MTS Place.

Saturday night marked the end of a stretch of nine games in 16 days for the Jets, including a homestand, a quick trip to Chicago, another home game and now this west coast swing.

"I think we’ve handled it well. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve been reasonably healthy through that and we’ve got some really fine goaltending mixed into that. It’s been decent hockey. I think the early part of our nine in 16 we played very, very well. I don’t think we’re really bragging about our last two. But a road win in San Jose, you’ll take it any way you can get it," said Maurice.

***

With the NHL set to go dark for a few days, much of the focus of the hockey world will be on the World Juniors which begin on Boxing Day here in British Columbia.

And that interest includes members of the Jets who will be watching closely.

"What’s kind of interesting now, I don’t think this was necessarily true 23 years ago (when he started coaching), but you’ve got players from all over the world in your room, so you get way better rivalries. There’s a lot better trash talking in your room, so it’s a lot more fun I think in that way," said Maurice.

"Probably enjoy watching it now more because of the skill level we’ve seen come into these teams and be great players in the NHL, prolific at least right away. As a coach you get to watch these guys a little bit more and see who’s going to be here next year."

Three Jets prospects will be suiting up for their countries. Defenceman Dylan Samberg (2nd round, 2017) is expected to be a major piece of the United States blue-line. Forward Santeri Virtanen (4th round, 2017) is on Finland, while forward David Gustafsson (2nd round, 2018) is on Sweden. Kristian Vesalainen would have been a lock for Finland but opted to remain in Europe playing for Jokerit of the KHL.

"I’m probably going to watch a few games for sure. (Finland) is in a tough group, so I’m excited to watch a few games and see how the boys are doing," said Laine.

Two Manitobans are on the Canadian squad in Winnipeg forward Cody Glass (Vegas) and Roblin defenceman Josh Brook (Montreal). Glass, the first-ever draft pick for the expansion Golden Knights, drew some high praise Saturday from former NHL player turned TSN broadcaster Jeff O'Neill,, who called him "potential Mark Scheifele 2.0."

Scheifele responded to O'Neill on Twitter, saying "kid's a player for sure," then expanded on that Saturday morning.

"He’s a good player. He sees the ice well and does everything really well. Obviously, he’s still young and there’s still a lot of room for improvement but I definitely liked his game, said Scheifele, adding it's funny to see young players already being compared to him.

"It’s kind of cool to see it from that side. I still think of myself as a young guy. To hear that, it’s kind of a surreal feeling. But it definitely humbles you for sure," he said.

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.