It is no secret that the Winnipeg Jets are playing awful hockey as of late. Currently riding a season-high four-game losing streak, to which all of the losses have occurred on home ice, the mood is not pleasant within the dressing room.
But luckily, as head coach Paul Maurice eluded to at the start of the shortened 56-game season, the team is no longer made up of “18 to 22-year-old kids”. Rather, experienced veterans Paul Stastny, Blake Wheeler and Mathieu Perreault have been able to help guide the younger crew in this difficult time.
“Obviously, the mood is not great, it never is when you lose games,” Mathieu Perreault said following Tuesday’s practice. “But we came out today, had a good practice, worked hard… The last four at home here haven’t gone our way at all. Not sure, but we’re going back on the road at the end of this week, so I think it might be a good thing for our team to get the chance to get out a little bit more.”
But before the team heads back out on the road – where they own the third-best record league-wide – Winnipeg will need to deal with Connor McDavid and Co. one more time.
Pretty incredible stat on Connor McDavid's season vs. the #NHLJets:
Through eight games, he has yet to record less than two points in any outing vs. Winnipeg.
He has seven goals and 19 points in those eight games.
Four point games (1)
Three point games (1)
Two point games (6)
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) April 27, 2021
“If you’re on the ice against them, you just have to be aware of it,” Perreault said of Connor McDavid. “If you get the puck on your stick, you need to make sure it’s going somewhere safe and away from your end; you try to get it in their end. Obviously, we need to get a guy who can throw some skating picks on him or something and get in his way a little bit more. But you always have to be aware when he is on the ice. We have to do it as a whole team every time you’re on the ice and he’s on there, someone has to pick him up and stay with him.”
McDavid has torched the Jets this season and shows no signs of slowing down. With the two North Division teams set to square off for the final time of the season on Wednesday evening, the Jets’ defensive corps has a new focus ahead of the matchup.
“Their transition game is really good,” blueliner Neal Pionk said on Tuesday. “I think tomorrow night, that will be a focus for us. We may not be able to stop it completely but we have to slow it down and we have to limit chances, then go from there… We’re not going to necessarily stop their transition, but we can certainly slow it down. That starts in the offensive zone. Whether it’s something as simple as hanging on to the puck versus throwing it away, or cycling it down low and making sure it gets below the goal line. It starts in the offensive zone, then even in the neutral zone, just making sure the puck gets past the red line, past the blue line, and you keep advancing zones and making sure they have to come the full length of the ice.”
Luckily, Winnipeg does have a world-class, Vezina-winning goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck. But as he has shown in the past week, even the best of the best have off-nights.
“Helle bailed us out in a lot of games, he covered up for our mistakes,” Pionk added. “For playoff hockey, that’s unacceptable. We have to step up for him. Even though he’s probably the best goalie in the world, we have to limit those chances and make sure we counter off those mistakes. It’s a team defensive game, that’s why the saying is hockey is generally you never blame the goalie. The puck has to go by five guys to get to him, then you go from there. It’s certainly a five-man unit out there.”
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According to Paul Stastny, this current slide is one that the veteran forward actually saw coming.
“When you’re winning games, you forget the bad plays and you usually remember what went in and the outcome of the game,” he said following Monday’ loss. “You know, when that happens and you kind of get away with it, but it’s more of us players holding each other accountable. It’s everybody, it’s not just certain guys. I think everybody’s got a little cheat in their game and we gotta be more honest with ourselves. Especially this time of year. It’s going to be harder, that’s fine. You never want to go through a stretch where nothing goes bad. If it’s too easy, then that’s dangerous, because all of a sudden you hit a speed bump and you’re shell-shocked and before you know it it’s over.”
Much like the rest of the injury-riddled forward crew, the well-travelled centreman has been forced to play at a higher level with the recent setbacks delivered by way of injury to Nikolaj Ehlers and Adam Lowry. But even taking injuries out of the equation, Stastny does think the recent slump may be for the better.
“Maybe this is good it’s happening now,” he added. “Like I said, it’s not going to change right away. If it’s next game or the game after that, I think we gotta get back to figuring out the fundamentals that we’ve created as our identity on this team. And kind of stick with it. A lot of cliches here, but that’s just how it is sometimes. Not getting too worried about the end result but just focusing on, whether it’s period by period or even just five-minute segments. Be there to support each other and help each other out on the ice.”