WINNIPEG, MB - After five days away from the rink, the Winnipeg Jets hit the ice for practice Monday before a season-long six-game home stand begins tomorrow night.
Bryan Little felt considering the lay off, the team looked good throughout the 45-minute up-tempo practice.
"I think we looked pretty good for having five days off today in practice. Hopefully tomorrow there's no rust and we're right back at it," said Little. "Guys treated this break a little differently. I think everyone just relaxed, and guys got in some workouts and stayed in shape."
Video: PRACTICE | Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine - who reached the 30-goal mark in the 5-4 overtime loss to Toronto last Tuesday - was a bit more critical of his performance.
"It was a nice break… It didn't feel good on the ice," he said with a smile. "But I hope it feels better tomorrow."
Jokes aside, the Jets are hoping to recapture the intensity the team was playing with heading into the CBA mandated break. Winnipeg was 3-0-2 in their last five games and climbed back to within a point of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
Now five days later, they find themselves five points back. But the number of games other teams had in hand over the Jets is closer to evening out.
"We think the rest has been good for a number of our players that carried some injuries in to that. So that's been positive," said head coach Paul Maurice. "We really like our last block of five games. We'd like to continue that. We felt with that style, the focus that we had in a particular game, that we were very competitive in all of them."
Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice
During that five-game stretch, the Jets scored 18 times, the most in the Western Conference, and the second most in the entire league behind Toronto.
Winnipeg also had 181 hits over that eight-day period, 21 more than the next closest team.
"We'd like to hit less, because we'd like to have the puck more. But when you don't, you've got to get to the puck with the right attitude," said Maurice. "Our physical intensity has crept up because our focus is better on that."
The focus has also been on patience, something the coach describes only comes when younger players mature. He says it's one thing to be able to score, but it's another to not "cheat" the game.
"You've got a big bulk of guys who came to the National Hockey League as scorers and offensive guys… That's what they're going to try and push. They want to contribute," said Maurice.
"It's an intensity and a focus when the puck is in your end or in a grey area, that you're not cheating to be on that. So on the nights it goes for you, you look great and you're scoring lots you say 'why can't you do that every night?' Because the game isn't played like that every night. Having confidence that you can win a game by scoring less at times, and not pushing the pace on the 50-50 pucks.
"In the last five games we've been much better at that."
Video: PRACTICE | Bryan Little
Now with 19 games to go in the regular season, and the Central Division leading Minnesota Wild coming to MTS Centre tomorrow night, Maurice wants his team's sole focus to be that game, and not what might be happening out of town.
"You just need to win the one you're playing," he said.
Little agrees, and although he checked up on scores during the break, he knows now that the team is back playing, winning is the best way to gain ground.
"If we go on a really good run and win a lot of hockey games, it's going to give us a better chance," he said. "We'd much rather have that than just looking at the standings and hoping teams lose. I think it's in our hands, it's not going to be easy, but it's definitely doable."
Video: PRACTICE | Drew Stafford
Andrew Copp (upper body), Marko Dano (lower body), Toby Enstrom (lower body), and Ondrej Pavelec (lower body) were all full participants in today's practice.
Maurice feels the timeline for each could be a bit different.
"Dano and Copp are cleared for full contact. That was their first practice at that. We'll give them a couple more good days on the ice and we're hopeful they'll be available for St. Louis," said Maurice. "Toby, there will be a decision made tomorrow, but he's progressed very well."
Maurice says Pavelec falls somewhere in between those three players.
"We'll get a better idea tomorrow how he came through today's skate, and we'll make a decision on whether he's ready to back up," he said. "We'll probably need to get through a few more days of practice, full on with the group, to know that."