March 22, 2019

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Winnipeg Jets (44 – 26 – 4)

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Opinion

Jets can't afford to take nights off

On paper, this should be a mismatch of epic proportions. Think David vs. Goliath, but with sticks and pucks instead of stones and slings.

And yet, we all know how that story ended. Just as we all saw how last week’s matchup between the powerhouse Winnipeg Jets and sad-sack Ottawa Senators turned out in the nation’s capital.

Now they’re set for the rematch tonight at Bell MTS Place, and you’d expect Winnipeg to come out with a burr under its saddle trying to avenge the embarrassing 5-2 loss to the last-place team in the NHL.

But lately, it’s been a case of expect the unexpected when it comes to the Jets.

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On paper, this should be a mismatch of epic proportions. Think David vs. Goliath, but with sticks and pucks instead of stones and slings.

And yet, we all know how that story ended. Just as we all saw how last week’s matchup between the powerhouse Winnipeg Jets and sad-sack Ottawa Senators turned out in the nation’s capital.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand</p><p>Ottawa Senators celebrate a goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit last Saturday in the Senators 5-2 in Ottawa.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Ottawa Senators celebrate a goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit last Saturday in the Senators 5-2 in Ottawa.

Now they’re set for the rematch tonight at Bell MTS Place, and you’d expect Winnipeg to come out with a burr under its saddle trying to avenge the embarrassing 5-2 loss to the last-place team in the NHL.

But lately, it’s been a case of expect the unexpected when it comes to the Jets.

Who really knows which version is going to show up?

Look down on an inferior opponent? How about play down to their level?

The Jets seem to be doing an awful lot of that lately, the latest example being a sleepy 4-1 loss to a Colorado Avalanche team that came into Thursday’s game needing a telescope to see Winnipeg ahead of them in the standings.

The Jets didn’t come close to equalling the urgency of the Avalanche, just as they came up short against the Senators and Montreal Canadiens earlier this month. Or the Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Penguins Penguins in January.

It’s a troubling trend, for sure, and one the team seems acutely aware of.

"We’ve been in both spots. I’d be lying if I said it’s not different," defenceman Jacob Trouba said Friday when asked about life in the NHL penthouse versus being in the proverbial poorhouse outside the playoff line.

"I think, as a team, as players we need to match that intensity. Because pretty soon that’s what we’re going to be in. Especially from here on forward, they’re high-intensity games. You’ve got to prepare yourself to be ready for what’s coming. So I think we have to get up to that level."

No, these poor efforts aren’t proving to be costly in the big picture as Winnipeg is sitting pretty when it comes to a playoff spot. A first or second-place finish in the Central Division is pretty much locked down at this point. That’s how talented this roster is.

But press some of the players on the issue, as I tried to do Friday, and they admit bad habits can be hard to break. That’s why getting things straightened out as quickly as possible should be a top priority.

"Yeah, you can’t expect to just go into the games in April and all of a sudden be primed and ready to go if you’ve been coasting or haven’t been playing to your full potential. I think it’s important that you try to get your game as close to as good as possible by the time you reach there, so you can peak in May and June," centre Adam Lowry told me.

Indeed, it’s a dangerous game to play to simply put it on cruise control for the next few weeks and then assume you can just flip a switch when the time is right.

"Sometimes, you don’t want to use the word complacent, but you look at some teams that seem to not be solidified in the playoffs, but close to almost guaranteeing a spot. There seems to sometimes be a lull in their game against teams that are below them in the standings," Lowry continued.

"It’s tough to say why we don’t you play all 60 minutes, sometimes it’s harder than that, but they’re fighting for their lives. They’ve fallen out of a playoff spot. Every game is so meaningful for them. It’s going to be big for us that we get back to trying to replicate that desperation. We’re fighting every night to move up in the standings and kind of keep our spot as well."

Maybe the best thing for Winnipeg is a schedule that is about to get a whole lot tougher once they’re done with Ottawa.

The Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins are all on the docket in the next month. All six of those teams are Stanley Cup contenders. Then there are games against teams fighting for their playoff lives in Colorado, the Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes.

That’s a pretty competitive 12-game stretch for the Jets — seven of them will be on the road, as well — which should tell us a lot more about this team once it’s done.

"I think it gives us a good chance to get up to that playoff-style hockey going into the playoffs," defenceman Tyler Myers said Friday of the challenge ahead.

"It forces us to get to a level, to start creating habits against teams who are going to bring some playoff hockey into the arena. For us, it’s getting to that level no matter what the situation is."

Easier said than done, it appears.

Again, this isn’t to rain on Winnipeg’s parade of what they’ve accomplished so far this season. Their overall record speaks for itself, and is impressive. But complacency is the enemy that must be avoided at all costs if this team wants to still be playing hockey four months from now.

I’m reminded of something Blake Wheeler said last Saturday after his team had just been downed by the Senators, stretching their winless streak to a season-high three games. A scribe asked if Winnipeg was simply seeing the best from other teams, who want to try and use the Jets as a measuring stick of sorts.

"I mean, that shouldn’t matter. If we consider ourselves one of the elite teams, we should be in that category for a reason. Our best should beat other team’s best," the captain snarled in response.

He’s right, of course.

Now it’s time for Goliath to start flexing some muscles.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

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History

Updated on Friday, February 15, 2019 at 8:37 PM CST: Fixes photo caption

February 16, 2019 at 8:14 AM: Final

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