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No "patting on the back" in Jets room as three-game road trip begins

Wheeler: "There's no time for feeling gratified in January"

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - Eight skaters and goaltender Steve Mason took to the ice Monday prior to the Winnipeg Jets hopping on a plane for a three-game road trip that begins in Buffalo tomorrow night.

It will be the second meeting with the Sabres in four days, and that suits captain Blake Wheeler just fine.

"Especially a team you don't see a lot. The Eastern teams, you don't seem to see a lot, then you play them and forget about them," said Wheeler. "You can learn some things, some of the things they try to do in that first game. Then you try to make a few adjustments for tomorrow night."

Prior to the first meeting between the two clubs - which the Jets won 4-3 - head coach Paul Maurice commented on how two meetings in quick succession helps the coaching staff prepare in a different way.

Video: TRAVEL DAY | Blake Wheeler

"We all like that. I think that's a better way. I think you get a better energy level from the two teams. It's not a one off. You want to establish your game. Then you want to be able to make adjustments, which is more fun for the coaches," said Maurice.

"You're trying to find something that works right there, but that you might be able to use for four or five periods against a team."

The Sabres are 5-10-3 at KeyBank Center this season, and are last in the Eastern Conference with a 10-23-9 record. But Friday's win over the Sabres snapped Winnipeg's four-game winless skid against Buffalo.

"They're a tough team. They're a team that gives us some trouble. We expect the same thing in their rink," said Bryan Little. "They have guys that can wheel out there, and some skilled forwards. If we go in with the same mindset where if we play tight defensively, not give them too many opportunities, and be patient with what we do, we'll be fine."

At 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, the Jets have been handling not only injuries to Mark Scheifele, Brandon Tanev, and Adam Lowry, but also the pressure from teams within the strong Central Division.

Video: TRAVEL DAY | Bryan Little

With 57 points in 43 games, Winnipeg sits atop the Central, with St. Louis and Nashville at 55 and 54 points respectively. The Jets hold two games in hand on the Blues, while the Predators only played 41.

"We haven't separated ourselves from anyone. Our division, and our conference, is really strong this year. If you want to get where we want to get to, at no point can you sit back and feel content, and pat each other on the back," said Wheeler.

"You look at where we're positioned, and we like that. But there are teams right on our heels. That's a good thing. It keeps you driving. It keeps you wanting more success. It's something we haven't had a lot of here. The more you get, the more you want.

"You have a bad week or two, and you're on the playoff bubble probably. There's no time for feeling gratified in January. We have to keep pushing forward. This is a big month for us."

Before the five-day player break begins Sunday, the Jets will face the Sabres, then have back-to-back divisional match-ups with the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild on Friday and Saturday night.

Video: TRAVEL DAY | Kyle Connor

While it could be easy to look ahead, Little says that attitude hasn't crept into the dressing room in any way.

"We're going to try and win all these games we have left, and it's going to be a challenge," said Little. "We're going to try and end it on a good note. The break is coming at a pretty good time. We can use that break to get guys rested up and get guys healed up and back in the line-up.

"You don't want to get ahead of yourself. There's quite a bit that can happen still, and there's a lot of hockey left and a lot of games left. We're all happy with where we're at right now, but nobody is patting us on the back just yet."

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