WINNIPEG -- The 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on November 25 didn’t give the Winnipeg Jets any points in the standings. But head coach Paul Maurice said there was a lot to like when the coaching staff watched the video.
“It was kind of the start of some hockey that we liked,” said Maurice, whose Jets face off with Washington Saturday afternoon at MTS Centre to conclude the season series. “It was almost a starting point of our defensive game starting to round together. It’s going to need to be. With a team like that, they’re going to have some puck control on you. We just have to be in the right spots, and confident, and gapped at those times.”
Washington comes into Winnipeg a confident team. With Thursday’s 3-2 win over Montreal, the Capitals have now won six straight games.
“They’re a tough team. They don’t give up much, especially through the neutral zone,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “You’ve got to be smart. Manage the puck properly, make sure it’s getting behind their D, because if it doesn’t, they have a lot of guys that can hurt you on the transition.”
Ladd scored his seventh of the season in the 6-1 win over Toronto on Wednesday. The 29-year-old now has points in four of his last five games, which has caught the coach’s eye. Maurice says two things stick out to him about Ladd’s game.
“One is knocking things down. He seems to always be able to create a loose puck… which makes (Bryan) Little and (Blake) Wheeler far harder to contain,” said Maurice. “Then tops of the circles in, the way he gets the puck off his stick. Perfect example is the goal the other night…. Like our team, in the last seven games, maybe it’s just getting off the road a little bit, but he’s been quicker.”
That quickness will be needed against a Washington team that has scored the fourth most goals in the NHL (77). They are also one of the league leaders when it comes to defensive play, sitting second in terms of fewest goals against (53), aided by the play of goaltender Braden Holtby, who leads the NHL in wins (16) and is third in goals against average (1.96).
“With good defence comes offensive opportunities. I think that’s something we’re seeing a trend with,” said Ladd, who added that puck management will be key in slowing down Washington. “In transition (Alexander Ovechkin) is one of the best in the game off the rush. He’s so dangerous. The best way to play against his line is have some success and play in their end, and not letting them have the puck.”
Maurice described the Washington forwards as having “two lines that are very gifted, and two lines that can grind offense out of the game.” But he saw the Jets can match up with the Capitals, using Alexander Burmistrov and Nikolaj Ehlers as examples.
“What we’re finding about them is their hockey IQ is high, and they have a willingness to play well defensively,” Maurice said of the two line mates. “I don’t have an expectation that against Chimera and Beagle they’ll be able to generate at will. But now they’re at a place where I’ve got real comfort just letting them go play shifts against the other team’s best.”
Heading into action Friday night, the Jets sit four points back of a three-way tie for third in the Central Division. Maurice says he just wants to see his team’s confidence build.
“I think that’s where we made our biggest improvement from Washington to Minnesota,” he said. “Everybody’s got one job to do, let’s gap harder on it, and play it a little more intensely. I’m hoping to see that (Saturday).”
PELUSO PITCHES IN OFFENSIVELY
Anthony Peluso scored his first of the season in the 6-1 win over Toronto.
“It felt good. It’s been a while. Just to break the goose egg on the year feels good,” said Peluso. “What feels better is the win that we had. As a team we came out well, played the right way, and playing good defence is going to lead to offence. As a group we’re learning that again.”
Peluso has suited up in 15 games this season, recording three points. His line with Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry has been a force on the forecheck in recent games.
“They make easy reads, quick reads on the ice,” said Peluso. “We play a lot of the same game, which is always nice.”
Coach Paul Maurice calls Peluso a “unique player,” adding there’s more to the 26-year-old’s game than “occasionally dropping the gloves.”
“We’re seeing that more and more out of that line. They’ve got two big men on there and Andrew is certainly a solid fellow, they can do some things forechecking in the offensive zone,” said Maurice. “So much more of the game that line has played recently is in the offensive zone. We think they can generate some things offensively.”