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This article was published 6/4/2018 (1138 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He was reluctant to take a break, but Winnipeg Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey was feeling refreshed and invigorated Thursday morning.
Morrissey joined five other Winnipeg regulars with a night off in Montreal Tuesday — Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, Jacob Trouba and Connor Hellebuyck were the others — and he understood the significance of head coach Paul Maurice’s move.
"I feel great today," Morrissey said following the morning skate. "It’s something Paul and I had talked about a little bit over the last couple of weeks, and it’s something that was a pretty hard decision to make. It was hard to want to come out of the lineup, especially having played all the games. It was tough on me to do that. One of the things we talked about, Paul has such a great plan for where we’re going and what our players need. That rest will help a lot now and down the line."
Playing a full 82-game schedule is a matter of pride for NHL players, and the Jets — who had lost 279 man games to injury entering Thursday’s game with the Calgary Flames — had only five players in position to accomplish the feat.
"It’s something I was able to achieve last year," Morrissey said. "A lot of it is luck, sometimes you just can’t avoid getting the flu or a shot or something like that. It’s something I hope to have a chance to do more in my career. But, at this time, we’re so excited about the coming weeks."
Lowry, meanwhile, has played in only 44 games during an injury-plagued campaign and took some convincing.
"If it was up to me, I kinda wanted to play. But after talking to the trainers and talking to Paul, it made sense to take that time off," Lowry said. "You get two full days to rest."
Lowry, in his fourth full season with the Jets, wasn’t really interested in the mental break.
"You know what, I’ve had 10½ weeks off in the last three months. I don’t really need a break," he said. "For those (other) guys, it’s nice. Back-to-backs can get tough. You get in late and your body is a little tired. Sometimes, it’s good to watch games from up top, too. But for me, there’s no mental break there. I’m ready to go. That was more a physical rest."
Being ready for the grind of the post-season is crucial for Lowry, who will be depended upon heavily for his grit and determination.
"I’m not going to go out of my way to hit guys and take myself out of position," Lowry said. "I think, for me, a lot of my game is controlled physicality. It means getting in on the forecheck and being hard to play against when I can. I don’t necessarily want to run around with my head cut off and not realize there’s a puck out there."
Convincing veterans to take time off wasn’t a big debate, Maurice said.
"Not overly difficult," Maurice said. "They all understood the situation. A back-to-back is the game you’re going to take some guys out. Every NHL team’s got a list of 13 guys who are dealing with something. It’s rare that a guy feels 100 per cent healthy. So those guys came out. They’re all going back in. It wasn’t difficult."
Sami the new Toby?
Newly minted AHL all-star defenceman Sami Niku made his NHL debut for the Jets in Montreal on Tuesday, and Maurice was asked for an early assessment of the flashy Finn.
"We look at him as somebody like Toby Enstrom. When Toby came into the league, he was very dynamic, he had a couple of 50-point seasons. Toby was a real skater, a real puck-mover. He went back and got it quick, he moved it quick. All of the things you’d like to see improve, he’s going to need to improve, you wouldn’t say of any defenceman — where his stick is a lot of the time. Those are things you learn, that your stick is really important if you’re a smaller guy. How you handle net front on bigger men. Those are things he will learn over time."
The 6-0, 168-pound Niku was self-assured in his debut, scoring on his first shot in the NHL.
"You did not see a lack of confidence, which is good," Maurice said with a smile.
ENSTROM UPDATE: Maurice said he is waiting for the club’s medical staff to clear Enstrom for a return to practice. Enstrom has missed seven games with a lower-body injury.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.