WINNIPEG -- After today’s practice, the Winnipeg Jets are staring down a familiar sight on their schedule – back-to-back games.
Thursday’s match up with the Columbus Blue Jackets at MTS Centre and Friday’s tilt with the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center will be the seventh set of back-to-back scenarios the Jets have seen this season, with one more set to go before Christmas.
“It’s a lot,” said rookie Nikolaj Ehlers. “But I love playing hockey. It’s a lot of fun. So I’m enjoying it.”
In the QMJHL with Halifax last season, Ehlers played three games in three nights four times. With the Jets playing Chicago for the second time in five days on Friday night, Ehlers says the close proximity of those match ups help him get familiar with different teams.
“For a forward like me, I want to try and remember how the defence is playing, and what I can do to beat them,” said Ehlers, who had a +1 rating in 11:52 of ice time against Chicago on Sunday. “It’s really important to play against teams more and more, get to know them.”
While back-to-back games don’t seem to be a rarity on the Jets schedule, two consecutive days of practice at MTS Centre have been. But that’s what the Jets have had this week, after Monday’s travel day from Chicago.
“It’s nice to work on things other than a couple drills to get ready for that next day, or not (skate at all),” said head coach Paul Maurice. “We had our first set of back-to-back practices at home in early December, and the last time that happened was October 22 and 23.”
Maurice has liked his team’s play in back-to-back games so far this season, citing November’s loss to Montreal as the one night the team “didn’t play very well.” He says his team has yet to play an opponent in the same rested or fatigued state as the Jets on a back-to-back night.
“We will, in Chicago, they play the night before too. So that will be the first. That game is our 17th road game, seventh back-to-back situation, that has not been easy,” said Maurice. “But I think we’ve handled it pretty well.”
Pretty well may be an understatement. Winnipeg is 5-1-0 in the first half of back-to-back games, and 2-3-1 in the second half. Out of a possible 24 points, the Jets have picked up 15.
One thing Mark Scheifele has learned as the back-to-backs have piled on is the importance of routine and recovery.
“You try to find the little edge that you can have to feel better for the next game,” said Scheifele. “The biggest thing is just taking care of your body now, getting the most energy for the game tomorrow, putting it all out on the ice, then doing what you can to recover. Then do it right back the next night.”
It was Scheifele’s overtime winner over Washington Saturday that gave the Jets their fifth win in the first half of back-to-back scenarios. And even with the extra practice days the Jets have enjoyed so far in December, Scheifele believes it doesn’t change how the team approaches coming to the rink every day.
“If you’re practicing or you’re playing, you want to do the same things. Continue to stay in your routine, you want to continue to take care of your body,” he said. “Obviously with the busy schedule we have, it’s nice to have a few days off, but we still treat it the same regardless. We’re working hard in practice every day and bringing to the ice what we can.”
Thursday’s opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, were on the receiving end of a Jets win to open a back-to-back set at the end of October.
It was that night that Ehlers had a five-game point streak snapped, and he remembers what Columbus brings to the table.
“They play hard. They’ve got some big guys. They want to get pucks to the net from behind the net. That’s pretty much what we have to do as well,” Ehlers said of the 11-16-2 Blue Jackets.
The 19-year-old has 12 points in 28 games, and Maurice is happy with Ehlers’ progress, and feels the offensive part of his game will continue to grow.
“I’m not worried about Nik Ehlers’ offence,” said Maurice. “Where he will go from being a good NHLer to a great NHLer is all the other pieces that go around his offence.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com