WINNIPEG – Home, sweet home.
After rattling off three wins on their season-opening four-game trip, the Winnipeg Jets were back at MTS Centre Thursday, practicing in preparation for Friday’s home opener against the Calgary
The Jets will being staying put over next 13 days, hosting host the Flames, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, and the Central Division rival and defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. With only one other home stand of this length on the 2015-16 schedule, and a good chunk of the fall calendar played on the road, the Jets are aware of the importance of stringing some wins together now, before things get hectic.
“You want to be good at home, right? That’s half your games right there,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “You can’t be bad at home and expect to have a good season, and this is a fantastic building to play in. The energy, the shape of the building itself, the physical layout of this building — it’s way louder on the bench than it is up in the suites, or even in the stands. It’s really loud and impactful down there, this crowd. It’s a great place to be, and for the other teams, too. We just came back from the road and a couple of those buildings were really quiet. It’s not as much fun to play in. You get into Madison Square Garden and the crowd gets going, the game’s better. The fans provide an environment for both teams to play with the energy that our game is best played at.
“Nobody’s getting any, ‘Hey, we’re 3-1!’ tattoos — we’ve still got some hockey here.”
The Jets were 23-13-5 at home last year, but it wasn’t until late in the season when the win/loss record became more heavily tilted.
The Jets are the last team to play a game at home.
First, the good news: The Jets’ penalty kill has done a terrific job so far this season, killing off 82.4 percent of opposing power plays.
The flip side? The Jets are one of the league’s most penalized teams, having been shorthanded a staggering 17 times in four games. Only the Philadelphia Flyers (21) and Ottawa Senators (18)
have been shorthanded more often.
It’s a trend, all right – one being addressed by the coaching staff – but as Maurice explains, part of it is simply due to the team’s aggressive identity.
“I can live with the penalties that we took against the Rangers, because they were part of a compete package that we understood as who we are as a team,” Maurice said. “The penalties that we took against the Islanders were not acceptable. Over the spectrum of a game, you get away with stuff and you get called for stuff. We’re not yelling at the refs. The penalties that we took on the island were not part of a compete package that was helping us win the game.”
The Jets finished the night 4-for-6 on the penalty kill against the Islanders – a game in which they were outshot 44-26. Still, they were one shot away from sending the game to overtime, even
after the slew of stick infractions.
The coach isn’t surprised, not with the confidence and overall skill level at his disposal.
“We played very poorly on the island, but there was still a feeling and a sense that we could tie the game,” Maurice said. “(I) didn’t have that sense a lot on the bench last year. I knew they would play, and scratch and claw ’til the bitter end, but it was a bitter end if we didn’t have the lead a lot of those nights. There’s some offensive creativity here across all four lines. … There’s some depth there — some depth of offence that I don’t think I felt last year.”
Added winger Blake Wheeler, who’s off to a strong start, recording five points (2G, 3A) in four games: “There were moments that we could have been better, but the key early in the season is that we responded well to it. That’s what you’re looking for. You’re not always going to be perfect right off the start [of a new season], but every time we let up a little we got right back on it.”
With five of the next six games against Western Conference opponents, the Jets are hoping the best is yet to come.
You can watch tomorrow’s home opener live on TSN3 beginning at 7:00pm CT.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com