WINNIPEG – Sunday, 4:00am. I couldn’t have been the only one digging for a key card in my empty coat pocket. After staying in 11 hotels over the past 28 days, arriving home in the early hours after a tough loss hours before, it was only natural to think we were on to the next.
Back to work today at MTS Centre, it was clear the Winnipeg Jets were happy to be back.
“It’s huge,” Bryan Little said of the mini break before Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. “It’s important to take that mental break away from the game, especially when things aren’t going right. It’s good to get away and not have hockey on your mind all the time. It’s good to get some rest and some practice days to actually work on some stuff.
“We’re just happy to be home and we’re trying to re-focus right now.”
The Jets recorded two of a possible six points on their recent road swing, which saw them play three games in just four nights across three different time zones.
“It was a gruelling schedule for us,” Adam Lowry said, still sporting the burns of a fight with Jarome Iginla. “We didn’t necessarily get the results we were hoping for, but I think if you look at our last five or six games and the style we’ve played … for the most part, we feel like our game is coming along.”
After losing seven of their first eight games (1-6-1) this month, the Jets are 3-3 in their last six, and are only two points out of a Western Conference Wild Card spot. With five of their next seven on home ice, and with multiple practice days in between over the next three weeks, the time is
now to start stringing some wins together.
“Right now we’re looking at things that are getting better,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “Our last few games we’ve given up quite a bit less in terms of where the shots are coming from. We’re seventh in the league in our last seven games [in that category]. We’ve come off the floor in penalties to 23rd in terms of a ‘restraining’ foul. Our discipline, especially in the last few games, has been fantastic. Where we’re getting our shots from has improved from 21st to 14th, so there are things that are getting better in our game. We’re certainly not jumping up and down about it being perfect, but there’s enough (positive) recognition in the room. The fatigue sets in for everybody. Everybody’s got their stretches. We went through ours, didn’t get great results, so we’ve got
lots of places to get better.”
In a 3-1 win over the Wild last Friday, the Jets tied a franchise record for the fewest shots allowed in a single game with 15. That total is also the fewest the club has allowed since relocating to Winnipeg back in 2011. The Jets have allowed, on average, an even 30 shots per game this season, but they haven’t exceeded that number in eight games – or a third of the campaign – dating back to their game against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 14.
Conceding only 24 in Saturday’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Jets are continually improving in this area. As Little explains, maintaining the trend isn’t easy, but he’s convinced they can do it.
“It’s not an easy game to play, it’s a lot of hard work and it’s got to be done night to night,” he said. “It’s easy to sit in here think that’s the way we want to play every game, but it’s another to go out and do it and do it every night. It’s about fully committing to it and realizing that it’s going to be a tough grind. We’ve got to accept that. There’s no easy way for us to do it.”
The Jets were one of the top defensive teams in the National Hockey League last season, finishing Top 10 in shots against with an average of 28.7.
Slowly, they’re making their way back.
LATE HITS: Blake Wheeler did not participate in today’s practice, but is “fine,” according to Maurice and will be back on the ice tomorrow.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com