WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets put their 5-1-0 record in the front half of back-to-back games on the line tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets at MTS Centre.
Winnipeg (13-13-2) beat Columbus 3-2 at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 31, just four games into John Tortorella’s time as head coach of the Blue Jackets. Add 17 more games to that, and Jets coach Paul Maurice says he already sees a difference.
“They’ve changed their neutral zone. Other than that they look very similar to all of John’s teams. They’re going to be really aggressive on everything they do,” said Maurice following today’s morning skate. “They’ll work a lot of low plays, wraps, scrums to the net, and they block an awful lot of shots.”
Blake Wheeler, who continues to pace the Jets in points with 27, agrees with Maurice.
“Teams that Tortorella has coached, they’re always hard working. They always seem to do those little things that get preached and harped on,” said Wheeler. “It’s going to be a tough test. They’ve been playing pretty strong over the last few weeks, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Since hiring Tortorella on Oct. 21, the Blue Jackets have gone 11-9-2, for a total record of 11-16-2. Despite the improved play, Columbus remains tied with Carolina at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. But Jets defenceman Tyler Myers says that doesn’t fool him.
“They’ve played pretty well on the road. We expect a pretty hard fore-check,” said Myers. “They’re a much better team than their record shows. They had a tough start. What we’ve reviewed, they seem to be playing really well right now, and we’re going to have to come in ready.”
Coming in ready will be important tonight, as the Jets are 7-2-0 when scoring first this season. They hope to use the back-to-back days of practice as fuel for a good start tonight.
“November was so hectic. It’s been nice to take a step back at home and get a few good skates in,” said veteran defenceman Mark Stuart. “You just have to take advantage of them whenever you can. You don’t get a lot of them throughout the season.”
The Jets have been slowly improving their ranking in the goals against column over the last 10 games (from 29th to 25th). Though the team’s record sits at 5-5-0 in those games, Myers has liked what he’s seen during that span.
“These last 10 games, we’ve come in more prepared to play a hard defensive game. I think it’s shown in our play, and we’ve done it without giving up our offence,” said Myers. “The way we’ve focused on our defensive game has allowed us to develop more chances offensively.”
To his point, the Jets sit just outside the NHL’s top ten in goals for, with 76. But Maurice says the Jets can’t expect a lot of room, or time, to make plays in any of the three zones tonight.
“It’s just going to be a fight for ice. There won’t be a lot of clean outs,” said Maurice. “You’ll always have somebody hunting you or closing on you, because of their aggressive nature. It will make it a real physical contest.”
Puck drop at MTS Centre is 7 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com