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Leading by example

Wheeler, Little, "drivers" at Monday's practice

by Mitchell Clinton @MClinton007 /

WINNIPEG - Four losses in a row meant there weren't many smiles around the Winnipeg Jets dressing room on Monday, but there was still work to do.

With frustration mounting, it would have been easier to forget about Saturday's 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay. Put it in the rear view mirror, and focus on Tuesday's match up with the Dallas Stars.

But that's not what was done.

"We got a real good look at last game today. We're not letting that one go. We've got to be a better hockey team than we were," said head coach Paul Maurice. "We've got lots of areas to improve. We're not in a position to not get an honest assessment of our game and where we've got to get better."

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

So they worked. For 45-minutes Maurice put the Jets through their paces, with drills including everything from flow drills to power play to five-on-five work on both sides of the puck.

Through it all, the veterans pushed the pace. Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, united again on a line with Nikolaj Ehlers as part of a top six shuffle to boost the team's offensive output, while assisting in the defensive aspects the Jets are focused on.

The captain has been through these situations, and knows it's a hard lesson the team is learning now.

"There's nights when it isn't going your way, and when it's tough, and you don't have any confidence, and you've lost three in a row - you still have to find a way to try and get a win," said Wheeler. "That's kind of what we're learning to do right now. When we're not coming full speed and making plays at the blue line, the highlight reel goals, we have to find a way to bear down and still make a stamp on the game, and figure out a way to get the job done."

Little is one of the players doing just that. The 29-year-old has goals in three of his last five games. He was one of five Jets forwards that played over 18 minutes in the loss to Tampa Bay, and as he's done so often before, he was leading by example today.

"He's a veteran guy, and he's got good numbers and he's well respected," said Maurice. "If he took a 3/4 lap around the rink to get a breather you would understand. There are certain guys that play big minutes that you don't really watch their intensity in practice because they've proven to be so intense in every single game.

"He doesn't do that. He's one of the finest quiet leaders that I've ever coached."

Six points back of a playoff spot with a four-game home stand wrapping up, and a four-game road trip on the horizon, the Jets know the work doesn't get any easier. But Maurice feels veterans like Wheeler and Little are exactly the type of players the team's younger stars can look to.

"They're exactly what the Winnipeg Jets need. They're drivers, consistent drivers," said Maurice. "Things aren't very nice right now, we just lost four games in a row, we're six (points) out. It's not a fun place to be, and they're all in. They're watching the video, they're watching every clip. They get out in practice, they're not taking the practice off. They're driving it.

Video: PRACTICE | Blake Wheeler

"We have good men here…. They're creating the right culture in there. It's just not easy to create it quickly. We've got so many young players, and you don't see a pay off every day. Those guys drive every day, and there will be a pay off for them."

In order to get to that pay off, Wheeler knows things can't remain the way they are. The best way to move forward? Move your feet.

"When we start losing our confidence a little bit, lose the feel of the puck a little bit, we start to look for those same holes that seem to be there when you're moving your feet, and they're not there anymore when you're not," said Wheeler. "It's a fast league now. If you're looking for plays, they're not there anymore. You have to be moving your feet. When we're doing that, we skate as well as anyone, we're really tough to play against."


Ondrej Pavelec skated on his own prior to today's full team skate at MTS Centre as he continues to recover from a lower body injury sustained in last Tuesday's loss to Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Maurice didn't have an update on Toby Enstrom, who left the Tampa Bay game with a lower body injury.

"Toby has a little swelling," said Maurice. "We have to wait for a few days before we get a better idea of where we're at with it."

Video: PRACTICE | Andrew Copp

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