WINNIPEG - Slowly but surely, the Winnipeg Jets are inching toward the team they want to be on opening night.
Wednesday's 3-2 preseason win over the Calgary Flames, a game where the Jets outshot the visitors 40-18, was an indication of just how fast Winnipeg wants to play.
And they still feel they can take it up a notch.
"I think that was more of what we want our style to look like and what Paul (Maurice) has kind of been preaching," said defenceman Brenden Dillon. "(We're) building more and more, whether that's chemistry with lines or just understandings systems, it was definitely a good step."
It is still the preseason, so the Jets are quick to recognize that the Flames didn't have their full line-up last night at Canada Life Centre.
They're also quick to point out that there are still things to work on.
Video: CAMP | Brenden Dillon
Take Connor Hellebuyck, who made 16 saves on the 18 shots he faced in his second start of the preseason. No goaltender has faced more shots in the past two seasons combined than him, yet his save percentage of 0.920 in that span is only a shade behind Semyon Varlamov's 0.921.
So facing only 18 shots in a 60-minute outing is a bit unusual for the 2020 Vezina Trophy winner.
"I was thinking after the game that I'm going to have to get used to games like this because the style we're playing - and the team we've built - is different than in previous years where now I might not be needed as much," Hellebuyck said. "The team defence was awesome. Maybe a breakdown here and there, and that's what I'm there for. So, I've got to start preparing mentally for that, and I know the guys around me are all doing their job."
Hellebuyck was back "tinkering" in Thursday's 40-minute practice at Bell MTS Iceplex. They're small tweaks to his game that focus on movement efficiency, small adjustments that may go unnoticed to the untrained eye.
"I had some things that needed tightening up and today I allowed myself to feel uncomfortable and get myself tight," said Hellebuyck. "I think that's one of my skills is identifying stuff like that and getting them out right away, adapting and getting them out. It's good I had time to identify some things and I'm prepared to move forward and prepare for the season."
The Jets defencemen blocked 19 shots in front of Hellebuyck on Wednesday. He knows his starting goaltender loves to see a lot of shots - and has a great record when that occurs - so the three shots Hellebuyck saw in the opening 20 minutes would have been quite an adjustment.
Video: CAMP | Paul Maurice
It's a fine line for the Jets to walk, though. Maurice likes the mindset of preventing the opposition from getting pucks to the net, but the Jets can't change who they are and what they're good at to make it happen.
"We don't walk in and say, 'we're not going to give up any shots and we're going to become this defensive juggernaut.' I don't think that would utilize our talents," Maurice said. "We've got some speed up front, we've got some skill up front and on the blue-line as well. But there's enough interest on this team that we can show heart and compete when we don't have the puck and that takes a little bit of maturity."
It's not difficult to find skaters with speed on this Jets roster. Names like Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Blake Wheeler are just a few of the players with different kinds of speed.
Ehlers - who scored twice on Wednesday - had that speed on full display with his first of the game, a coast-to-coast rush that finished with a rocket of a shot past Flames goaltender Dan Vladar.
Video: CAMP | Connor Hellebuyck
Dillon has seen rushes like that from Ehlers from an opposition perspective, and now he's glad he gets to contribute to the speed those Jets forwards can create - instead of trying to defend against it.
"So much skill, so much speed, and I think that's why we're trying to play the way we can because of the speed we have throughout our lineup, on the D corps," Dillon said. "Man, oh man watching them snap it around on the power play, yeah, I kind of feel like I'm getting better already just watching those guys. So it's been fun."
Fun is a word Dillon used a few times on Thursday as he described the vibe around the Jets dressing room. There is one preseason game to go - a rematch with the Flames in Calgary on Friday - and that will be the final dress rehearsal before the games count for points in the standings.
Hopefully Friday will be the best one we've had. I think if everyone's feeling good about their game, power play's feeling good, special teams altogether, I think that's kind of what you want," Dillon said. "It's like everyone really has found a way to have connections with each other and in practices guys are hooting and hollering. We're feeling confident but understanding, too, that we've got a long road to get to where we want to this year."
Video: CAMP | Nathan Beaulieu
Paul Maurice gave an update on assistant coach Jamie Kompon, who hasn't been with the team since training camp opened on Sept. 23.
"Tina Kompon (his wife) has been battling breast cancer for over six years now and things changed a little bit there about three weeks before camp, kind of a new challenge that they're battling," Maurice said. "They need to be in L.A. with their doctors and Jamie needs to be there. So, the positive is there's a hope and there's a plan and they're dealing with that daily. So he will remain with Tina until things change."
Maurice said he and Kompon talk every day, with players and other members of the staff reaching out frequently as well. There is hope that Kompon will be able to join the Jets in Anaheim for the season opener.
"If it works, he'll be back in running a meeting. He does all of the work anyway, he does all of the video - that's the technology that we have now, to send video back and forth," said Maurice. "Work ethic is not an issue for the man, he's putting in a lot of time still in hockey and it's good for him, I guess. He'll be in Anaheim and on the bench."