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Lowry, Jets prioritize getting to the net

"The puck has to end up there to score goals." -Lowry

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - Dave Lowry hinted yesterday that Monday's practice would be centered on an area the Winnipeg Jets wanted to improve on.

That area is getting to the net.

They didn't spend the entire 65 minutes at Canada Life Centre doing just that, but it was certainly the part that was circled, double underlined, and bolded on the practice itinerary.

"We need pucks to get to the net and we need bodies to get to the net, and it's no secret: It's hard to defend," said the Jets interim head coach. "We find it hard to defend. We want to continue to use the net front as a starting point for our offence."

In fact, as Nate Schmidt puts it, getting the net is "non-negotiable."

Video: PRACTICE | Dave Lowry

He's seen the success teams can have with it first-hand. He dealt with the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 doing it game, after game, after game.

"When I played in Washington, some guys did, some guys wouldn't, and then the next year when I played them in the finals, it seemed like every guy did, and it makes it that much more difficult (to defend)," said Schmidt. "You may not be the hero on the play, but trust me, your linemates and your teammates are going to be awfully grateful for it. And I think that's what we have to understand."

Getting bodies in front of opposing goaltenders creates traffic in that critical area of the offensive zone, but it also creates more space for other players on the line to make plays.

As Schmidt says, it forces the opposition's defencemen to back off.

"If Jansen Harkins gets to the net and Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois have more time in the zone to do their own thing, that's a benefit for us," said Schmidt. "That's how you have to view it, and whether you give the me extra time, heck, I'll take all the seconds you'll give me, right? I need it. So the more time and space there is out there, it's good. And for a guy like me, it's even better." 

Lowry said there are a number of examples of Jets players getting to that crucial area. There is game footage, but also practice footage that is shown to the players during video sessions.

It's that important to what the Jets want to do, and Lowry anticipates there will be more and more footage as the games go on.

"It's not always going to be the same guy that's going to be designated that he has to be the net front guy," Lowry said. "What we really want is we want drivers in our offence. We want guys that, once the puck enters the zone, we want guys that are going to get to that area. And, at the end of the day, the puck has to end up there to score goals."

Video: PRACTICE | Nate Schmidt

The majority of the Jets lines on Monday looked exactly as they did on Sunday. The only difference came on the blue line, as Ville Heinola was recalled from the Manitoba Moose to the taxi squad - which the National Hockey League brought back officially on Boxing Day.

The lines looked like this:

Stastny-Scheifele-Ehlers

Connor-Dubois-Harkins

Toninato-Lowry-Reichel

Beaulieu-Gustafsson-Suess

Morrissey-DeMelo

Dillon-Schmidt

Heinola-Stanley

Neal Pionk missed practice for a second consecutive day due to travel, but is expected to arrive in Winnipeg on Monday and presumably would be available for Tuesday's practice.

Pionk's absence was primarily what prompted Heinola's recall.

"I thought he had a great practice. The Moose aren't practicing until the 28th so a great opportunity for him," said Lowry. "Every day for us is unpredictable. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow and that's the biggest thing with Ville: we'll continue to address that on a daily basis."

Video: PRACTICE | Ville Heinola

That's the mindset Heinola has as well. He spent a chunk of last season on the taxi squad, but this season's rules state that no player can spend more than 20 cumulative days on the taxi squad. This rule is in place until the 2022 NHL All-Star break.

Heinola has 14 points in 20 games with the Moose this season, and used Monday's practice as an opportunity.

"It's good to see where the level is and you know what you have to focus on to get there," Heinola said. "The main thing is to get there, then get some games. You have to see what you have to do."

The Jets are scheduled to hit the ice for practice again on Tuesday, where Heinola and the group will continue to keep the focus on being ready for whatever comes their way.

Wednesday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks has been postponed by the National Hockey League, which means the team will continue practicing as they prepare for a road trip scheduled to begin in Calgary on New Year's Eve.

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