December 9, 2019

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Jets need strong start in series against Blues

The Winnipeg Jets have crucial work ahead of the holiday season to ensure they don’t undo all the good deeds accomplished since the start of the NHL season.

Bouncing back tonight in the Gateway City after Thursday’s 5-1 defeat to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks would certainly help.

(AP Photo/Bill Boyce)</p><p>St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester tangles with Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler. The Jets are expecting a pair of physical affairs when they play the Blues for the first and second time this season in a set of back-to-back games this weekend.</p>

(AP Photo/Bill Boyce)

St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester tangles with Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler. The Jets are expecting a pair of physical affairs when they play the Blues for the first and second time this season in a set of back-to-back games this weekend.

The Jets begin a home-and-home series tonight in St. Louis against the Blues and then face their Central Division rivals on Sunday afternoon at Bell MTS Place.

Next week, Winnipeg (18-9-5) heads out for games in Nashville, Boston and Brooklyn, N.Y. (Islanders).

Jets centre Bryan Little said the dismal performance against the Blackhawks wasn’t altogether unexpected for a team that was riding high for two months but has stumbled lately.

The Jets are 1-3-1 in their last five games and 4-4-2 in their last 10.

The bleeding needs to stop immediately, said Little.

"I think we were kind of due for a game like we had (against Chicago). We haven’t been playing our best the last four or five games, and the games we’ve won things like offence and scoring goals have come easy. So, we have to get back to going into every game like it’s going to be a battle, expecting a tough game and playing a tough game," he said.

Chicago took a 3-0 first-period lead and cruised to their fourth straight triumph.

The early trouble was unfamiliar territory for the Jets, who lead the NHL with 40 first-period goals.

Little said there was some pushback by his club but not nearly enough — and there wasn’t a player in the lineup satisfied with his own performance or the collective effort.

"It was one of those games where we just didn’t have it. And it doesn’t help when you have a start like that," said Little, who assisted on Winnipeg’s only goal, the 15th of the year by winger Nikolaj Ehlers. "I don’t know what you point to, other than it was one of those games.

"One of the keys for us it to have a strong start against the Blues. We’ve had some really good games against them and most of us know what to expect from them... physical and fast. We definitely have to be better. These are big points against division teams."

Jets head coach Paul Maurice juggled personnel when the game started slipping away, dropping Kyle Connor from the top line to the fourth and moving Ehlers to the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Mathieu Perreault was promoted to the Little line with Patrik Laine.

However, the usual order was restored during line drills on Friday, and Maurice said he’s looking for a return to form from all his players, irrespective of position.

"We played a game like that against Columbus a couple of months ago (Oct. 17) and we reacted the right way off it," he said. "We’ve been a pretty fast team, a pretty quick team. But we didn’t have the legs or the hands (against Chicago). In an 82-game schedule, everybody’s getting one of those. It’s all about what your next one looks like.

"It’s good to be playing the teams you’re fighting with. Christmas is coming, so the team that can keep its focus is going to pick up some points. We’ve got make sure we get our game back to where we like it."

The Jets have definitely cooled down after going 14-5-3 through the first 22 games of the 2017-18 campaign.

Little said the club is still trying to get comfortable in its own skin as a bona fide NHL heavyweight.

"We’ve never been in this situation before where we’ve had a good start and been near the the top of the standings," he said. "I think we’re adjusting to it. The most dangerous thing when you have that start is to become complacent and get satisfied and expect thing to get easy because you are playing well.

"We’ve found out the last week or two you can’t take things for granted. You have to show up every game. You saw that (against the Blackhawks), we weren’t ready to play and it was a tough night for us."

St. Louis (21-10-2) is 3-2-0 in its last five and hoping to regain form after a 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.

Former Brandon Wheat Kings sniper Brayden Schenn is having a monster start to the season, leading the Blues with 16 goals and 37 points. He’s single-handedly made his acquisition from the Philadelphia Flyers for Jori Lehtera and a pair of a first-round picks looks like grand larceny by Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.

Laine, tied with Ehlers for the Jets’ goal-scoring lead (15), said the next two games will be a measuring stick as the new year approaches.

"They have a heavy team. They like to play physical. And they still have guys like Schenn and (Vladimir) Tarasenko (14 goals), guys who can finish," said Laine. "It’s a challenge for us. It’s Central Division games, so it’s a huge back-to-back for us and, hopefully, we can grab a couple of points."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @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).

Read full biography

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