WINNIPEG – The snow said it all. It was piled high in the corners, behind the nets and on the trailing edge of each line, like berms on a waterway.
Fitting, then, that the Assiniboine Rink looked more like the river itself in the middle of winter, when the outdoor ice would go a full day without a proper shovelling.
It was clear some work was put in here.
The Winnipeg Jets were back on the ice Tuesday at MTS Iceplex, and this was no ordinary practice – the pace and intensity, higher than normal in the drill-packed hour, but not entirely unexpected.
With four full days off, the Jets will not have a longer break between games all season – a scheduling quirk the team is taking full advantage of, considering what’s to come.
“We’re looking at this being the same as the week we had prior to the start of the season,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We can focus a little bit more with a slightly better understanding of what kind of team we have, and where we need to make improvements. You’d prefer not to have four days off, but then you can take advantage of it. You can rest guys. We had a full complement, a healthy team out there today, which is good. We have a little better understanding of where we need
to get better, and now we can apply those things this week.”
Beginning Friday, the Jets will play 19 games over the next 37 days, including 11 games against playoff teams – many residing right here in the Central Division. With that in mind, much of the focus over the next few days will be less about rest and rejuvenation, and more about preparing for
the difficult stretch ahead.
“In a day like today you can use a bigger number [of] guys. Our drills had more than five (players) in them, so there’s less rest,” Maurice said.
“We wanted to work on some harder, grinding-type things. Our practice pace has improved from the second cut down and we’re getting closer and closer to what we want. They know we’re not going to keep them out there for two hours, so we try to define what we expect of them. They don’t mind working hard, they never have. It was a good pace to practice today, we’re really going to back
off tomorrow, and then get back to it on Day 3.”
Blake Wheeler was still catching his breath nearly 15 minutes after practice ended.
A good old-fashioned bag skate will do that.
“There are pros and cons to it,” Wheeler said of the layoff. “It’s a tough thing because you start to get into a routine playing almost every other day. When you get out of that routine, you’ve got to stay on top of it, you’ve got to have tough practices, so that when Friday comes, you’re not
lethargic out there.”
Coming off a 4-2 loss to the division rival St. Louis Blues, the Jets will be looking to get back in win column after rattling off four wins in their first five games.
“We’re pretty evenly matched,” Wheeler said of the Blues. “If we play those guys 10 times, we’re probably looking at five (wins) apiece. They’re a really strong team. Those are fun games to be a part of. It’s honest hockey and they’re playing just as hard we are. They’ve got a lot of big boys out
there, we’ve got a lot of big boys in here – it’s a grown man’s game.
“We didn’t get that one, but we’ll hopefully get the next one.”
Veteran defenceman Mark Stuart saw plenty of positives in Sunday’s game and is eager to build on those over the next week.
“It was a battle, for sure,” he said. “Very physical – kind of reminiscent of playoff hockey. … Today was a good skate. When you have a few days, you can work on your systems, your power play, penalty kill, watch a lot of video, and get a good skate in at the end like we did. If you use
(the break) correctly, it can be a good thing.”
LATE HITS: After missing the past three games with an undisclosed injury, Ben Chiarot was back at practice today and will be available to play Friday vs. Tampa Bay.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com