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Jets return from holiday break refreshed, excited to "turn things around"

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – Fresh off a three-day holiday break, the Winnipeg Jets got to work today at MTS Centre tuning up for tomorrow’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We have kind of an unusual job here,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “You go every day for the most part, and most of our days off come off of flights when you’re getting in late. It’s good to get a few days and spend some time with your family, enjoy all the things that you have and then
come back excited.”

While some stayed back in Winnipeg after arriving back late Tuesday night, others – such as yours truly – enjoyed the break back home or abroad. Either way, after 34 games (15-17-2) that included seven sets of back-to-backs, the Jets were in need of both the physical and mental reprieve.

“We needed it,” Drew Stafford said, “to regroup and recharge the batteries a little bit. For us to get that break, I think we can turn that into a positive.

“Losing isn’t fun for anybody. We’re all in a bad mood. When you string a few losses together it’s hard to find the energy, the enthusiasm. It takes a toll on you. It was good timing for us to get
this break. … The guys are excited to turn this around.”

It all starts tomorrow when Sidney Crosby and the struggling Pens pay a visit. Pittsburgh is 3-6-1 in its last 10, and is just two weeks removed from a coaching change, firing Mike Johnston and promoting Mike Sullivan from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate.

The Pens are five points back of the second and final wild-card playoff spot, currently occupied by the Ottawa Senators.

Crosby’s play might be the biggest surprise of all. The 28-year-old is still second in team scoring, but has only six goals and 22 points in 32 games this season. Over the course of his 11-year career, he’s never scored at a lesser rate, with his previous career low coming last year when he tallied 1.1
points per game 77 regular-season contests.

Those numbers are of little concern to the Jets head coach, however, as he expects nothing but the best from the 2014 Metro Division champs.

“They’ve probably left every game thinking they’ve had enough chances to score. The puck’s not going into the net for them,” Maurice said of the Penguins’ 2.27 goals-per-game average – third fewest in the National Hockey League.

“If you watch them play, they still get plenty to win enough hockey games. Our challenge is to keep them to the outside.”

Three days ago, Maurice said that the team needed the break to clear their minds, to help rejuvenate for the second half, adding, “The coach has been in a bad mood for a long time.” Today, he expanded on that comment, clarifying what he meant, specifically, and how the team will move forward in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Preparation is key. So, too, is honestly and positivity when the time is right.

“We’ve been appropriately moody,” he said with a smirk. “We’ve been positive when we should be and we’ve gone hard after the things that have made us grumpy. I don’t come to work in a mood for the mood’s sake. I don’t think we’ve lost any games because we weren’t prepared enough and
we let something slip away because we were being too casual. We’ve gotten that part right.”

LATE HITS: Mark Scheifele was involved in a collision with Andrew Ladd during a drill at today’s practice. The forward was helped off and did not return for the final 15 minutes. There is
currently update on his condition and/or availability for tomorrow’s game.

“We’ll give it some time and see how he’s feeling tomorrow,” Maurice said, adding that Scheifele needed “a couple” stitches to repair a small gash on the noggin.

– Ryan Dittrick,

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