WINNIPEG – While it’s far too early to pass judgement on just about every early season trend, what is clear is this: The toughest division in hockey is already living up to the hype.
At 4-2-0 with eight points, the Winnipeg Jets currently sit fourth in the Central, two points back of the Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues.
Behind them, the Minnesota Wild, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, and the Gabriel Landeskog-led Colorado Avalanche, who are bringing up the rear but are poised for big things, one game under .500.
More than 90 percent of the season remains, but when all seven teams have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, it isn’t getting any easier.
Bring it on, they say.
“To play well in the Central Division, it’s every night, every single game. It forces you to play at a higher level and I think there’s a benefit to that,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said.
“Nothing’s changed from last year. I don’t think anybody’s waiting for anyone to fall off. It’s going to be great hockey. … There are so many big, physical games, where you get into a rhythm with that type of game being played (consistently).”
Beginning Friday, the Jets will play 19 games in the next 37 days – nine of which will feature a Central Division rival.
Today was Day 2 of a four-day break between games, used to full effect with a pair of up-tempo practices this week at MTS Iceplex.
“It’s huge,” second-year forward Adam Lowry said of the layoff – the longest of its kind, in-season, this year. “You see some breakdowns early in the season that you’re not accustomed to seeing later in the year. It’s important to fix those as soon as you can so those bad habits don’t creep into your game. This week’s huge. It gives some guys a little bit of rest before a pretty busy schedule
BURMI EYES OFFENCE
Alexander Burmistrov is confidence the offence will come.
The 24-year-old has been limited to just one goal – an empty-netter on opening night – so far this year, but is feeling more and more comfortable alongside Adam Lowry and Drew Stafford.
“I’d like to (contribute) a lot more offensively,” he said “I like what we’re doing defensively right now, but we can be better. We’ve got to be way better offensively as well. … That’s the best defence, right?”
Burmistrov has been deployed primarily in a defensive role and is one of the team’s leading forwards in shorthanded ice time at more than two-and-a-half minutes per game. It’s because of this that Maurice has confidence in the young pivot, citing his awareness on the defensive side of the puck and obvious offensive talents.
“We’re asking Alex to take the skill set that he has and employ it in a prime role against other teams’ best players,” Maurice said. “What he wants to do is contribute more offensively as a line, but still accomplish his role. That will always be a three-man, five-man deal for him. That line has a slightly different risk profile than the other lines on our team. … With Alex, he just needs time — he needs time on the ice, reps in that role where he figure out what he can and cannot get away with. Eventually he’ll move into a power play role and that’s where some numbers will come from.”
Burmistrov – who, in addition to the goal, has one assist, four penalty minutes and a +3 rating this season – celebrated his 24th birthday today.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com