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This article was published 19/12/2018 (769 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SAN JOSE — Like sharks in the water, the Winnipeg Jets know they have to be careful of what’s lurking when they step on the ice with a dangerous San Jose Sharks squad.
Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are two of the most mobile, offensive defencemen in the NHL, and the pair of Norris Trophy winners have already combined for 57 points through 35 regular-season games this season. They can join the rush at any time and give the Sharks plenty of added bite on offence.
"They’re a team that’s got a veteran back end, first and foremost. They’ve got guys back there that can really skate and get up in the play. They don’t spend a lot of time in their own end," Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said Wednesday, as his team held an off-ice workout and optional skate at SAP Center ahead of tonight’s first meeting of the season with the Pacific Division powers.
"It’s going to be a tough game, they’re playing well, they’ve got some young guys playing really well — scoring. Some veteran guys that can obviously put the puck in the net. It’s always a tough game whenever we play San Jose, so we have to be ready to go and try to bounce back from (Tuesday) night."
Winnipeg kicked off its three-game pre-Christmas road trip Tuesday with a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in southern California. It snapped a five-game win streak for the Jets (22-10-2), who remain tied for first in the Central Division with the Nashville Predators.
San Jose (19-11-5) has won five straight games, including a 4-0 triumph in Minnesota on Tuesday. After a bit of a bumpy start, the team seems to have hit its stride.
"When you introduce a dynamic player (Karlsson, acquired in an off-season trade with the Ottawa Senators), sometimes there’s a shift and the pieces all have to make kind of a little bit of an adjustment. But they’re a powerful team, so even with a bit of a wonky start, they’re going to go on runs. They’re going to have their time where everything’s clicking, and we want to make sure we match that," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said.
He said stats show San Jose spends less time in its own end of the ice than any other NHL team.
"Well, it’s going to be an ‘A’ game in that you need to play that way if you have any chance of winning. It’s going to be really fast," Maurice said. "I thought L.A. was very, very fast — unusually quick. San Jose’s got an awful lot of speed, and they can transition so very well. You gotta play a skating game (today) or you’ll be behind it."
Winnipeg has been activating its defence more during its recent stretch of play, and Morrissey is right in the middle of it. He has three goals and eight assists over his past eight games, and admitted Wednesday he’s spent plenty of time studying the work of Karlsson and Burns.
"I’ve definitely watched them over the last number of years. It’s fun to play against them, too, and test yourself against them and compete in the same game," Morrissey said.
"Obviously, it’s been working well right now. I think you go through stretches where things are clicking. Sometimes, it doesn’t. I feel like I’ve been working hard over the last few years to add that element to my game and not do it all overnight, but kind of gradually improve and add that element without sacrificing playing good D. Obviously, right now, it’s working, and it definitely feels good to be adding that element and get those opportunities to shine in that aspect of my game."
Morrissey said the current trend in the NHL is to have a five-player attack whenever possible by activating the blue line, but it’s all about risk management. The Sharks, he said, do it as well as any team.
"I think every team’s trying to now have that element to their game, the way the game has gone over the last number of years, how fast it is. The skilled guys that are coming in on the back end, I think it’s important to have that second wave of attack. It’s definitely something we talk about," Morrissey said.
"When you watch the Sharks play, they have some of the best guys at doing it — and they really, throughout their entire back end, have all those guys involved and they generate a lot of shots from those guys back there, too. I think it’s just a general trend in the league. You’ve got to be able to skate, and teams try to get those defencemen moving."
Maurice and Morrissey weren’t as sour on the loss to the Kings as perhaps some fans were. They were under no illusion that a victory over the last-place team in the NHL would be automatic.
"Obviously, we look at things we could do a little bit better. But they played a great game. From their goaltender out, they really committed to playing hard defence. I think the style of that game was maybe a little bit different than the last seven, eight games that we’ve played. So, I think knowing that, getting into that style of game, it was a good learning lesson to how that kind of style will look when we get future matchups like that. They played well, so we need a bounce-back," Morrissey said.
"That’s the parity in this league. If you have an off night, or sometimes it’s not even having an off night, just playing against a team that has everything click, sometimes, you’re going to have nights like that. We didn’t take them lightly by any means, but it just goes to show that any night you can win or lose in this league."
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.