EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Winnipeg Jets visit Rexall Place for their first meeting of the season with the Edmonton Oilers, and while Edmonton comes into tonight on a three-game losing streak, they’ve won six in a row in their own building.
“Most of the games I watched were on their roll, so an awful lot of speed and a lot of sharp passing,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice on what he expects from Edmonton tonight. “I know they’re going to come with pace and structure. We’re going to have to make sure we’re right.”
The Jets believe their game has been “right” in recent games, including Friday’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers, which pushed Winnipeg’s record to 15-15-2 this season.
“The simplest answer is the areas we needed to compete harder at, we are,” said Maurice. “We’re trending the right way of the three or four things that were really a problem for us: shots against, where the shots were coming from, the number of power plays we were given up - the number of power play goals, and how they were going in. Those were the areas we were struggling with and we’ve got a little bit better at those.”
“We’ve been pretty happy with what we’ve been doing recently. Haven’t got quite the results we’ve been looking for,” said Blake Wheeler of the Jets .500 record. “I think our effort has been there, and it’s going to be a tough test tonight. We’re excited for the challenge.”
The 32 points the Jets have accumulated have them three points back of Colorado in the Central Division. That same amount of points would have them one point back of third in the Pacific, but Maurice sees a benefit to playing in the Central.
“This is our reality,” he said. “If you’ve got a younger team like we have, this is what you learn: Every night in the NHL if you’re not on, you’re going to get beat.”
In four games against the Pacific Division, Winnipeg has picked up three wins, with the only loss coming to Los Angeles in October. To make it four victories in five attempts against the Pacific, defenceman Jacob Trouba says discipline will be important against a speedy Edmonton team.
“You just have to take away time and space as much as you can,” he said. “Try to limit their opportunities on the power play, because that’s when they’re good.”
After being paired with Mark Stuart for most of his career, Trouba is getting used to sharing the blue line with Dustin Byfuglien.
“It’s been going well. We’re still learning off each other. Like I’ve said before, he’s a pretty special player. Sometimes you just have to get out of his way and let him do his thing,” said Trouba. “For the most part just trying to read off him and communicate. I think we can both field each side. Just kind of read off each other and make sure we have our bases covered.”
Communication also played a role in the success of the line comprising of Matt Halischuk, Andrew Copp, and Joel Armia in its debut against the Rangers. Halischuk saw 46 seconds of penalty kill time, while Armia led the way with 10:54 of ice time.
“It was the first look at Joel Armia in our sweater. He was on the puck, his intensity level was right, which is important because his hands are there. He’s got the vision,” said Maurice. “Defensively he was quite responsible in that game. I just liked the energy, the way they talk to each other. They kind of brought in on the bench. They kept the energy level.”
The game was also Halischuk’s first look at NHL action this season. He suited up in 47 games with the Jets in 2014-2015.
“Obviously with Joel and I getting to go in and get an opportunity there was obviously a lot of excitement there and a lot of energy,” said Halischuk. “It’s just a matter of making sure we keep that consistency, and bring that energy every night.”
Tonight’s game begins the eighth set of back-to-back games for the Jets prior to the Christmas break. The Jets are 6-1-0 in the front half of those situations, and Wheeler says they aren’t looking past this match up one bit. They want to go into that break on a high note.
“We’ll celebrate Christmas when it’s Christmas,” he said. “We have work to do before then. You can make it an enjoyable break or a miserable one depending on how these next two games go.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com