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Jets prepare for Wild's suffocating style of play

Minnesota Wild's Eric Staal defends against Winnipeg Jets' Jack Roslovic during their game in December. The Jets are anticipating more of the Wild's tight-checking style when the two clubs meet again Thursday in Minneapolis / St. Paul.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Minnesota Wild's Eric Staal defends against Winnipeg Jets' Jack Roslovic during their game in December. The Jets are anticipating more of the Wild's tight-checking style when the two clubs meet again Thursday in Minneapolis / St. Paul.

The Winnipeg Jets face a familiar nemesis in Minnesota Thursday night and they expect the hometown Wild to serve up a familiar brand of suffocating defensive hockey.

The Jets dominated the Wild in 2017-18, winning three of four games during the regular season and four of five in the playoffs. Thus far in 2018-19, Minnesota has won both meetings between the teams — once in Winnipeg and once at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

"They play a good defensive game," said veteran Jets left-winger Mathieu Perreault Wednesday afternoon. "The first game in Minny, we kind of blew it. We were up, and then they tied it up and scored a late goal to win. It's always tight, not much room out there. Yeah, they've got the best of us the last two games. Hopefully we can take this one back tomorrow."

What needs to change?

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The Winnipeg Jets face a familiar nemesis in Minnesota Thursday night and they expect the hometown Wild to serve up a familiar brand of suffocating defensive hockey.

The Jets dominated the Wild in 2017-18, winning three of four games during the regular season and four of five in the playoffs. Thus far in 2018-19, Minnesota has won both meetings between the teams — once in Winnipeg and once at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

"They play a good defensive game," said veteran Jets left-winger Mathieu Perreault Wednesday afternoon. "The first game in Minny, we kind of blew it. We were up, and then they tied it up and scored a late goal to win. It's always tight, not much room out there. Yeah, they've got the best of us the last two games. Hopefully we can take this one back tomorrow."

What needs to change?

"They came back on us one night, so it’s hard to look at that and say we didn’t have it," said goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. "... We had it for 90 per cent of it and just lost it. So I guess just putting together a full effort against them and obviously they’re going to be pretty angry because of the way the season ended last year."

How does Jets head coach Paul Maurice explain the reversal of fortune?

"I do think they have a bit more of a defensive posture against us maybe now than they did," said Maurice. "So much of your season isn't really necessarily about your opponent you play that night. It's the road you've travelled the week prior to it. You're catching a team that's hot. Pittsburgh would be a good example. We lost to them in here but had the lead on them, and they looked like a completely different team (there). We caught them (Minnesota) in a time when they were grinding a bit and played a pretty good defensive game."

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck made 37 saves in the Jets 7-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/TREVOR HAGAN

Winnipeg Jets' goaltender Connor Hellebuyck made 37 saves in the Jets 7-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night.

FUN FACT: Winnipeg's 7-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night was the club's seventh win in seven tries when giving up 40 shots or more this season.

The St. Louis Blues, Carolina Hurricanes, Arizona Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks all met with a similar fate as the Avs, who outshot the Jets 41-21.

Head coach Paul Maurice said Winnipeg's success in those situations involves more than just good goaltending.

"Goaltending, yes, especially early on," said Maurice. "(Against) Carolina, Arizona, (it was) really good. Detroit. And then there are Corsi teams that shoot absolutely everything. There's also a loss of possession if you do that. If we handle that right, there's an opportunity for us to get it back, and then the transition's good. When you're shooting the puck, you've got at least two other guys that are out there in an offensive mindset. And if it doesn't go in or it's a low-percentage shot and the other team gets it, if they move quick then, there's an advantage...

"Shot quality for us would be far more important. There was a lot of scrumming action around the net, a lot of quickness in what they did. And then there was a great chunk of shots that aren't going to beat (Connor Hellebuyck) anyway. We don't mind those, because we've got an opportunity to get those back."

Hellebuyck didn't agonize over the pucks that got past him Tuesday.

"I thought I played very well," said Hellebuyck. "I played well enough to win. I made some key saves when I needed to. I can’t control the fluky tips and the luck that they’re getting. I like to play my fullest game and if I’m not making a mistake and making them get a lucky goal, I think I’ve done a good job."

FINDING ANOTHER GEAR: Winnipeg had a one-point edge over the Nashville Predators atop the Central Division heading into Wednesday's action and veteran blue-liner Ben Chiarot admitted that lofty perch can make opponents more dangerous in the heat of a playoff race.

"When your kind of sitting comfortable up high in the standings and you’re playing against teams that are desperate for points, they’re just naturally going to be more desperate and have more intensity to their game and that’s something we need to build towards and manufacture here as the second half goes along," said Chiarot.

WHO'S MINDING THE NET? Hellebuyck, with nine starts in Winnipeg's last 10 games, has started all six games the Jets have played since the Christmas break, a number that matches his longest stretch of consecutive starts in 2018-19.

He will start Thursday against the Wild before getting a break on Friday when No. 2 man Laurent Brossoit gets the nod against the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, January 9, 2019 at 6:14 PM CST: Fixes error in photo caption

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