WINNIPEG – No one ever said it was going to be easy. It never is. And certainly not here, where the team’s identity is founded upon – as an impassioned Blake Wheeler said following practice Tuesday – hard work and “grinding it out.”
As far as he’s concerned, with 57 games left on the docket, there’s no reason to panic. Not with what he’s come to experience with this team, and the toll it took to achieve.
Dec. 1, 2014. A year ago today the Winnipeg Jets were 12-11-4 – one extra win, a couple of overtime results’ difference to the 24-point total they have now, in two fewer games.
In other words, if they win their next two (vs. Toronto and Washington), they’ll have more wins and the same 28 points they had through 27 games last year.
“Look at November last year, what we looked like. And December. And January, February, March. Every single day was a grind,” Wheeler said.
“It’s easy to have expectations when you didn’t go through it. … It’s easy to look at all the fun things that happened as a result of the grind we went through last year. That was special. We earned those results, but there was never one single time last year where it came easy, to the last game where we clinched, we were in an overtime game battling for our lives. Nothing came easy for us last year and it’s not coming easy again this year. Hopefully nobody came into the season expecting that it would, because that’s not who we are and that’s not what we do. We all need to embrace the battle, because it’s going to be that way until the bitter end. If we find ourselves on the right side
of the line again, then we can throw another party, but that’s a long ways away.”
The Jets aren’t turning a blind eye, either. Trailing the Minnesota Wild for the second of two spots in the Western Conference Wild Card, they know their game isn’t perfect, but it’s come a long way in the last few weeks after a tough stretch on the road.
“We’re pretty close. The results may not say that but if you look deeper into it, coming from where we were – 7-0 in Nashville – I think since then we’ve been pretty good,” Wheeler said. “We’ve had some bad bounces go against us, but it’s all part of just grinding it out. We’ve played pretty well,
but there have been some lapses that have hurt us. Those are the things we need to shore up.”
According to Head Coach Paul Maurice, the past seven games have shown that they’re on the right track. Even in Friday’s win over the Wild, he commented on how that game was important
because of the “way it was played,” and not the result.
That night the Jets allowed only 15 shots on rookie goalie Connor Hellebuyck, tying a franchise record for
the fewest in a single game.
“I don’t think it’s an ‘exhale’ or a letdown,” Maurice said with regard to the understandably high expectations this year. “Every team, every year, they have to find the game that they’re good
at. I believe we’re starting to see that come back into our game.”
THE BLUE LINE SHUFFLE
Ben Chiarot could be back in the lineup tomorrow night when the Jets host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 24-year-old last played on Nov. 14, but was paired with Dustin Byfuglien at today’s practice, while Adam Pardy was moved off the regular rotation and on to the extra pairing Paul Postma.
“His play wasn’t where we hoped it would be and that was the reason he came out,” Maurice said. “He’ll get an opportunity go back in, to get back to where we think he should be.”
Chiarot has appeared in 13 games this season, recording two assists and averaging 15 minutes, 38 seconds per game in ice time. He admits he struggled with confidence early on, but is eager for the opportunity to prove himself.
“There are ups and downs to every season,” Chiarot said. “When I came in last year, it was pretty smooth sailing the whole way up until I broke my hand. … This year, it was just one of those
times where things weren’t going well.
“It’s the best league in the world. If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, the next guy in line is and you never know when you’re going to get your next chance. You’ve got to be ready to go every night.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com