Jets return to ice in front of fans

- April 14th, 2013

After getting away from the rink on Saturday for a much-needed day off, the Winnipeg Jets were back on the ice Sunday morning at MTS Centre, taking part in a 65-minute workout before nearly 3,000 fans who are on the season-ticket waiting list.

It was a pretty uneventful workout and head coach Claude Noel wasn’t especially thrilled with his team at times (turning down his microphone to give his guys a few choice words), but the group seemed to battle through and the fans were generally enthused to be in the arena, especially when the caps and other giveaways were sent into the crowd by Jets’ players.

One of the funnier moments occurred when Dustin Byfuglien stole the stick of Zach Bogosian and threw it into the crowd for a souvenir, without his permission.

But as Byfuglien was laughing at his prank, Bogosian returned to the bench and grabbed one of Byfuglien’s composite twigs and sent it into the crowd.

Turnabout is fair play, I guess.

The Jets are back in action Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning — who were facing the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday afternoon after losing 6-5 in OT to the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

It was a quiet day in the Jets’ dressing room post-workout, as the only two players to attract large scrums were captain Andrew Ladd and winger Blake Wheeler.

“It’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to come to the games, but it’s nice to have an event like this for a lot of loyal fans that don’t get the opportunity that a lot of people do,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “It puts a little more pressure in practice, but it’s always fun to have fans out. Hopefully they enjoyed it.”

Naturally, reporters were curious as to how much attention players were paying to Saturday’s results on the out-of-town scoreboard.

The Jets haven’t been getting much help on that front and Saturday was no different, as two games impacting the Jets went to extra time, creating the unwanted three-point games.

“We were checking the New York (Islanders vs Rangers) score and we said hopefully, it’s not an overtime game and sure enough, that’s the way it works,” said Wheeler. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what everyone else does. We have to keep winning games and let the rest take care of itself.

“Everyone is hot but we are too.”

The Jets will take a three-game winning streak into action against the Lightning. Obviously, the Jets would like to run the table and if they can win five of the final six — including the game against the Capitals on Apr. 23 at Verizon Center — they should give themselves a decent chance to punch their ticket to the playoff party.

A common sentiment is that with the Caps so hot right now, they’re due for a little slide but the Jets can’t count on that. They need to take care of their own business, then — as Wheeler mentioned — the rest should take care of itself.

However things turn out, these final two weeks of the regular season should be filled with drama as teams in the East jockey for position.

“We went through a tough stretch (a five-game losing streak), and kind of took ourselves out of it a little bit and this is what it’s going to take,” said Wheeler. “It’s going to take playing your best hockey at the right time of the year. If we’re able to do that and that equals us making the playoffs, we’re going to be a tough team to play if we do make the playoffs. This is all really good stuff for us to face.

“The only thing that matters is the last day of the season, where you are. And we’re all still very confident that if we keep winning games that we’re going to set ourselves up with a good opportunity to make the playoffs.”

There’s no doubt the Jets are battle tested, based on the many tight games they’ve been involved in this season. And being battle tested should help them push through during these final six contests.

“Going into the third period with the lead, we’ve been good this year and that’s a huge deal,” said Wheeler, pointing to the Jets’ 16-1 record when holding an advantage after 40 minutes in 2013. “If you can hold onto leads, that’s how you’ve got to win games a lot. That was an issue for us a little bit last year, we didn’t close games out as well as we’d like to. We’ve gotten better at that this year. We’ve learned that sometimes there are different ways to win games, it’s not always going to be pretty and you’re not always going to play your best game. But when you stack it up at the end of the day, if you’re getting wins, that’s the bottom line.”

“We’ve had some success these past three games by doing things the right way and hopefully we can feed off that and keep this thing going,” added Ladd. “We’re going to have to go on a run here to get into the playoffs. We all understand that and it’s exciting to be involved in meaningful games at this point of the year.”

The significant news coming from Jets head coach Claude Noel’s media availability was that D Toby Enstrom has been moved from day-to-day to week-to-week, leaving his return before the regular season in question.

Enstrom has been out since Apr. 9 with a suspected back injury (the result of a check from Buffalo Sabres F Steve Ott) but the Jets have been tight-lipped about the nature of the ailment.

Enstrom was on the Jets’ bench (in street clothes) during the early stages of Sunday’s workout, but we don’t expect to hear much more from him until he returns to the ice for practice.

C Jim Slater (hand) and F Nik Antropov (lower-body) were also absent from practice on Sunday.

Monday’s package in The Sun and online at www.winnipegsun.com will also include a piece with Grant Clitsome, who is having a breakthrough season on the blue-line for the Jets and figures to be used prominently down the stretch with Enstrom moving to week-to-week.

 

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