The Winnipeg Jets and their head coach regularly blame speed, or lack thereof, during post-game appraisals of their NHL defeats.

The Winnipeg Jets and their head coach regularly blame speed, or lack thereof, during post-game appraisals of their NHL defeats.

Lately, the Central Division team has been on the losing end far too often — with just one regulation victory in its last seven outings — and its inability to match the quickness of its opponents has been a major factor.

The Jets have been designed with speed in mind. Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers are blessed with lightning quickness up front, while Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele and Jansen Harkins can shift into a higher gear than many of their league counterparts.

On the back end, Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and Nate Schmidt supply top-flight mobility.

But the essence of NHL quickness isn't just a player's ability to dart up and down the ice. There's no skills competition out there, with bonus points for a blazing lap around the rink.

Quickness comes in other forms, says a sizable Winnipeg forward who isn't exactly revered as fleet of foot.

"It's not necessarily just about skating speed. It's the quickness in your decisions, the quickness in your reads," said 6-5, 210-pound centre Adam Lowry. "You could be moving quickly, but if you're going to the wrong spot you're gonna be playing a little slower. You're not going to be pushing (opponents) back, you're not gonna be in the right spots for your guys.

"It's about getting on the same page with whoever you're playing with… that you know as soon as you get the puck you have a couple of outs, so you don't have to take that split second — you have to look — but you don't have to survey if there's a better option. You're taking your first read, you're moving from there."

The Jets (10-8-2) host the visiting New Jersey Devils on Friday at 7 p.m., the second game of a four-game stretch at home. Winnipeg is just 1-5-1 in its last seven games — outscored 21-9 — and was fifth in the Central Division prior to Thursday's slate of games.

The Devils were in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday night to battle the streaking Wild before playing 24 hours later in the Manitoba capital.

The Jets did some primary work on their struggling power play but also ran line-rush drills, with a focus on quick, tape-to-tape passes from their blue-liners to forwards in motion. Head coach Paul Maurice barked out repeatedly he wanted to see breakouts and zone entries at top velocity.

It's the old adage of practise like you play.

"It’s definitely a mindset. It’s having that mindset of wanting to do everything at a quick pace," said defenceman Brenden Dillon. "Getting those reps in at practice, all those things become a habit for you and it becomes your normal, and it gets engrained in you.

"For our team, we’re definitely built around speed, and all of our players – our forward lines, our defence – we’re a mobile group and I think it’s moving pucks quick, it’s shooting pucks quick, it’s being fast in how the puck is moved and how you're in getting to spots, whether that’s the defensive zone, the neutral zone or the offensive zone. We’re at our best when we’re attacking quickly and getting pucks to the net."

The Jets have played in four time zones over the last two weeks and have appeared fatigued at times, particularly in Minnesota in a 7-1 spanking Friday. They did respond one night later, rallying to defeat the Flames 4-2 in Calgary.

Players had Tuesday off, while most opted to stay away from the rink when Wednesday's skate was made optional by the coaching staff. But the tempo was jacked up to high Thursday.

Maurice said it's his responsibility to ensure the club is ready for flight.

"The mental component of speed, it’s what I feel my job is. Your job is to get your team to play fast. How you prep them in practice," he said. "Most of the game speed is the people without the puck reading either the puck carrier or the first forechecker. If you can increase the percentage of an understanding of what is going to happen next, your team will play faster.

"(It's also) what you do with the puck and your mindset with the puck changes the speed of the game. If you think you’re shooting the puck, you’re more likely to go to the net. If you think you’re going to pull up and make a pass, you’re more likely to get into a shooting lane. I think you’ve heard me say I want all of them to play like shooters. They don’t have to shoot the puck. I want them to move like they’re going to shoot the puck. That’s their main goal. When we do that, I think we’re fast."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant 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).