WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wednesday was a day of rest and re-energizing for the Winnipeg Jets.
There’s no doubt they earned it after securing three of a possible four points on a road trip that featured games against the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals on consecutive days.
The sample size is obviously small, but the statement was a loud one for the Jets, who looked nothing like the team that was outplayed in a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in their home opener and often battled with their mental toughness and preparation in road games last season.
Dealt with a lot of things on the blog following the game, but here are some leftovers that didn’t make the paper.
* Newcomer James Wright, claimed off waivers from the Florida Panthers last week, made his Jets debut on Tuesday, playing just over eight minutes on the fourth line with Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn. Thought he fit in nicely as he replaced Kyle Wellwood in the lineup. Was on the ice for the first goal against as the Jets got caught flat-footed on the goal by Matt Hendricks (after nice passes by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom). Wright should have been credited with one hit and he showed his skating is his best quality. Noel said he liked Wright’s game, thought he used his speed well.
* On what Evander Kane saw on the play that led to Blake Wheeler’s goal:
“A lot of D try to step up on me and try to take my speed away, sometimes you’ve just got to chip it by him and go around him,” said Kane, who pushed the puck around Caps’ D John Carlson and created a 2-on-1 rush. “I knew Wheels was there because he’s a fast guy. I just threw it across and he was able to put it in the open net.”
Jets head coach Claude Noel called the pass to Wheeler “a heck of a play” and Wheeler tipped his cap to Kane as well for the crisp feed.
We’ve been critical of Kane’s ability to distribute the puck on occasion and he’s not going to turn into a playmaker overnight, but his passing during the past two games has shown improvement.
Aside from the sweet set-up to Wheeler, Kane also made a nice pass to spring Kyle Wellwood for a breakaway against the Bruins on Monday.
Kane has spoken often about working on his consistency and he put together two solid showings after a rather nondescript home opener.
“Him and I didn’t think he played a very good game in the first game, but he really got back to doing the things that make him a good player,” said Noel. “He’s been getting more shots, he’s gone good with Jokinen and the addition of Wheeler seems to have fit that line.
“The other thing is he’s really skating well, chipping pucks and getting to them and now he’s making plays. These are the types of things that give him confidence. These last two games here, back-to-back, you’re starting to see the player we saw last year, which is really good for us.”
* Wheeler was excited to get on the board and you can’t blame him. It took him nearly a quarter of last season (Game 19) before he scored his first goal last season and still managed 18. After sitting down with Wheeler in September during the lockout, I had a pretty good feeling he wasn’t going to endure a similar drought this season. He didn’t have a good start against the Senators, improved a bit against the Bruins (despite being on the receiving end of a big hit from Zdeno Chara) and took another step forward against the Capitals, with two points. Wheeler still has another gear to get to and admitted it’s taken him a bit of time to get back to the North American style of play and spending some time playing in Germany during the lockout with the Munich Red Bulls of the DEL.
“Maybe a little bit. On the big sheet over there, you can get lost and play in your own little world sometimes. In this league, you need to support each other, play with speed and I was kind of getting caught flat-footed and not getting across and supporting my (linemates),” said Wheeler. “Little things like that can make a world of difference and we’re starting to get better at it.”
* Mark Scheifele has three games of his five-game audition under his belt and hasn’t looked out of place. He played in a bit more of an offensive role on Tuesday, skating on a unit with Alex Burmistrov (the Barrie Colts connection) and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Scheifele had two shots on goal in 8:40 of ice time and had a glorious power play chance that was snared out of the air by the glove of Braden Holtby. It’s getting closer to decision time for the Jets and these next two games should make for fascinating viewing. I’m still on the fence regarding what direction the Jets are to go. I thought Scheifele would have to make an offensive impact to nail down a full-time roster spot, but I’ve liked how aware he’s been while playing more of a checking role and playing out of position. I’m starting to see the value of keeping him around the Jets even if it’s in a fourth-line role that could grow into something else. I’ll delve more into this topic before the weekend is over.
* Winnipegger Derek Meech was chosen to replace fellow defenceman Zach Redmond in the AHL All-Star Classic. Meech lost the seventh D-man spot out of Jets’ camp to Redmond and has three goals and 18 points in 36 games with the St. John’s IceCaps this season.
As for our coverage, my main story is on the new line combination of Kane, Wheeler and Jokinen, while the sidebar deals with the emerging shutdown defence pairing of Ron Hainsey and Mark Stuart, who have been excellent so far, filling in extra minutes during the absence of Zach Bogosian.
Noel spoke to reporters in Winnipeg on Wednesday and columnist Paul Friesen handled that availability as I was traveling.
Be sure to check out our entire package in Thursday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com
The Jets return to the ice on Thursday, in preparation for a two-game homestand that includes a game against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.