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Jets enjoy off day, return focused on Arizona

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – Following a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in their return to MTS Centre Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets enjoyed a bit of R&R.

It was a luxury the team hasn’t had in over a month, prior to a stretch of playing nine games in nine different cities including Winnipeg, where they made a quick pit stop before heading back out for
the second of two lengthy road trips.

As any traveler knows, the comforts of home are impossible to replicate. The family dinners, the familiar drive and neighbourly hellos – it just feels right.

“I’ve done this for a while, but for whatever reason, just coming home for that one game against Philly, it had felt like we’d been on the road for three weeks, it really did,” Head Coach Paul
Maurice said.

“It was a bit of a hard slog on the practice today – I expected that – but they ground through it. We’ve got five (games) in eight (days) coming up, so, welcome to the NHL.”

The Jets host the Arizona Coyotes tomorrow in the second of a three-game home stand. The schedule lightens up next month, with just nine games in 23 days before the holiday break.

“We’re not right in the middle of the season yet, but the schedule is still tight and we’ve been on the road a lot, so it was nice to get away from the rink for a day to regroup,” Bryan Little said. “It’s nice that we were able to do that after a win, so everyone’s feeling good and confident right now.

“We don’t have any major injuries right now, so it’s more about [mentally] getting away from the rink, and actually getting a day to spend with our families, which we haven’t had a lot of this month.”

With the off day behind them, it was back to business with an hour-long practice earlier today at MTS Centre. Wednesday’s victory was a colossal win for the team’s confidence, but everyone understands they have to keep it going for it to have a meaningful impact in the Central Division.

After all, it doesn’t get any easier. The Coyotes have surprised many this season and are currently third in the Pacific with a 10-8-1 record. The 9-9-3 Jets have lost seven of their last eight, but showed significant progress in their previous two outings, losing a tough, one-goal game to the St. Louis Blues before snapping out of their funk with a decisive win over the Canucks.

The reputation of being a tough, physical team is returning after a difficult stretch.

“You walk off the bench and there are always four or five things that you didn’t like about your game, but if you beat the other team and run into their coach or coaches, they say, ‘Boy, you guys are big and fast’ and we weren’t in that stretch,” Maurice said. “You can be as big as you want, but if you can’t get to the hit, there aren’t any to make. We just weren’t quick enough (during the losing streak). When we’re on, we look big and fast, even though we’ve got some guys in that room that aren’t crushing people, but we do have a certain presence with the people that are. That ability to play a physical game and to be hold the other team accountable for their play, that’s
something I think we can do.”

The Jets out-hit the Canucks 30-16, with Andrew Ladd, Adam Lowry and Dustin Byfuglien leading the charge with five apiece.

It’s more than a playing style. It’s an identity.

"The biggest thing for us lacking before was that confidence that we could go out and beat any team," Little said. "I thought we did a great job last game. Everyone played well, so I think we’re a confident group right now, so it’s about maintaining it and believing we can play like that every night."

Little has a team-leading nine goals, along with 18 points, this season.

LATE HITS: Blake Wheeler left practice after being hit in the side of the head with a rising Dustin Byfuglien point shot midway through. The 29-year-old was in considerable pain, but did skate off on his own – holding a towel to his face – after being tended to by Head Athletic Therapist Rob

Maurice said the winger was coherent as he left the ice, but will be checked out by the medical staff before an update can be given.

Wheeler is the team’s leading scorer and is currently on pace for a career high with eight goals and 21 points in just 20 games this season.

– Ryan Dittrick,

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