Quiet day at MTS Iceplex as just a handful of players (read mostly non-regulars or fourth liners who were limited to around two minutes of action in Wednesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks) hit the ice for some work and the others chose to conserve energy and go for an off-ice workout instead, ahead of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers.
Excitement was the buzzword of the day, as each of the five players made available to the media talk about being excited about facing the Rangers on Friday as most media members tried to gauge the mood of the group.
When a team has lost five consecutive games (0-2-3) in the midst of a playoff push, it’s not surprising to hear players focus on the positives. That’s what they have to do. After making up so much ground in the standings, you can be sure there’s an element of frustration involved with falling five points behind the Dallas Stars. But if you’re consumed by the disappointment, the chances of scratching and clawing your way back into that race are unlikely.
“It’s just that. If this is rock bottom, it certainly isn’t any reason to go jumping off a cliff. I think our game is better than our results have been. That’s a positive you can take from this. Certainly we’re at the point in the year where it’s all about getting results but I think the way we’ve played, especially over the last few games, has been an improvement. You just keep building on that and the results will follow,” said Jets forward Blake Wheeler.
Wheeler was quick to dismiss the notion that the Jets were simply going through another stage where they had to lose a little bit more before they could breakthrough and win.
“We’ve kind of done that the last couple of years. We’re turning the corner with everything, with our commitment to the way we play. I feel like we’re a tough team to play against now. The years past we’d go through stretches where we were tough to play against, stretches were we weren’t very tough to play against. But now we have a commitment in our locker room and guys are flying around the ice and making it tough on other teams,” said Wheeler. “(Wednesday) night a guy bats it out of the air to tie the game and we lose in a shootout. Did we deserve to lose that game? Well, that’s just one of those things. I like where we are right now and the direction our team is heading of being just a big, fast, physical team that is tough to play against. When things aren’t going exactly how you want them to go — like right now when you’re not getting the victories that some nights you feel you deserve — you have that to fall back on. Whereas, maybe before, you’re kinda searching a little bit more than we are right now.
“We know what we’re good at and we know what it looks like when we’re playing well. We’re going to be skating, we’re going to be physical and we’re going to be creating a lot of chaos out there. There wasn’t a whole lot of action going on in our end, really, in that Colorado or Vancouver game. That’s what you’re going to see. You’re going to see us skating and creating offence. The pucks will go in the net more and more, but when things aren’t going well we’ll have that to fall back on. I think that’s what makes us a little bit more of a confident group right now.”
Maintaining that confidence when times are tough becomes the next challenge for the Jets.
“We have to try and stay positive. We’re obviously in a little bit of a funk here but we can’t lose sight of the big picture and that’s taking it a game at a time,” said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. “I think we’re right there. A few bounces go our way here and there and the games might have been different. We’ve battled hard, we’ve competed hard, but at the end of the day we have to make sure we’re closing out those games.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice answered a question about how his team is handling the battling for points and the games become more tight-checking.
“I want them to take it all in, too. Shutting it out only takes you so far. Taking all the pressure in and then being able to handle it, that’s where you grow as a team and as an individual player. You handle the pressure,” said Maurice. “Listen, I don’t think we’re necessarily struggling with that. Colorado is not a bad team and we were the better team on the ice. That game (Wednesday) was evenly played. It was a 2-2 game and I wouldn’t have traded our chances for theirs. We had a four or five two on 1s right at the net that you’d like to see get converted.”
Maurice was also asked that if being a fresh voice might be a little less stressful than someone whose job was in jeopardy, as was the case for Claude Noel when the Jets were mired in a similar slump in January.
“The energy coming from me has everything to do with where we’re at, not where I’m at. Where we are as a hockey team. Everybody gets fired and I’ve got some experience with that too and I’m not afraid of that. You get to a point in your career when you don’t care anymore about that, all you want to do is have our team to play the way you want them to play. We’re in a really important process here at a time in our franchise that we’ve got to get our routines right, our mental routines. How we handle games, how we handle stretches like this, how we handle the penalties and stuff. That’s my first focus,” said Maurice.
Veteran centre Olli Jokinen talked about the importance of playing loose and staying in the moment, rather than getting swept away by the rising intensity of the playoff race.
“There’s no reason to be tight right now. The coach was telling us last game that you’ve got to play to win, not to be afraid to lose. We’ve got to go out there and play with confidence,” said Jokinen. “If there’s a mistake, just bounce back. You work hard. Mistakes are part of hockey, it’s part of the game. It happens all the time.
“There’s going to be hundreds of mistakes in a game. Almost every shift you can find a mistake if you want to find a mistake. It’s more about how you react.”
And how the Jets react in games against the New York Rangers on Friday and the Dallas Stars could go a long way in seeing if the Jets can stay in this race.
As for my coverage in Friday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com, I wrote a column revolving around Maurice dismissing a report from the TSN panel that he was unlikely to return to the Jets next season, while the notebook focuses on how the Jets are trying to learn how to win rather than be afraid of losing.
I’ll check back in after the morning skate. The Rangers are playing tonight at Xcel Energy Center against the Minnesota Wild, so they won’t likely be hitting the ice before Friday’s contest.
Talk to you tomorrow with the usual game-day tee-up.