Jets get again to the fundamentals – Winnipeg Free Press

The Winnipeg Jets have been anything but perfect lately, with just three wins to show for their last nine games. They’re hoping a return to practice — something that simply hasn’t been possible in recent weeks due to a crushing schedule — will help break some bad habits.

Wednesday’s hour-long skate at Canada Life Centre was detail-heavy, with a priority on fixing some of the mistakes that have been cropping up during the first slump of the season for the 21-13-1 club.

“It’s just the way it is with the schedule. It was nice to get out there and practice and be able to work on some systems and some things and stuff that with that schedule we had in December you’re just not able to really do,” said defenceman Josh Morrissey.

Wednesday’s hour-long skate at Canada Life Centre was detail-heavy, with a priority on fixing some of the mistakes that have been cropping up during the first slump of the season for the Jets. (Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press)

Indeed, Winnipeg’s busiest month of the year has already included 14 games and plenty of travel, and that’s with the three-day holiday break that just ended. They’ll play twice more before the calendar flips to 2023 — a home game on Thursday against Vancouver in which they’ll try to snap their three-game losing streak, and then a New Year’s Eve date in Edmonton.

“We had about a two-and-a-half hour practice lined up there, with all of the stuff we wanted to touch on,” Jets associate coach Scott Arniel said of the busy “to-do” list that has cropped up after consecutive defeats last week in Washington and Boston, then a home-ice setback on Tuesday against Minnesota.

“We knew we couldn’t be too long. We wanted to have it be 50 minutes or so, but hit on some areas. We got to do some structural stuff that we had to touch on and there was sort of (a list of priorities). We talked a lot about our neutral zone, just a lot of different lineups, different bodies and faces going in. We just had to go back and do a walkthrough of it, much like you do in training camp. You do this lots in different areas. You might do it in your own zone cycle, you might do it on breakouts. This was one area that you don’t get to touch too often. We just wanted to make sure that we did a good job with it.”

Winnipeg was sitting on top of the Central Division in terms of win percentage just a week ago. Now, they’re in danger of slipping into a wild-card spot, with Dallas in front of them and both Minnesota and Colorado hot on their heels. They also have just a four-point cushion on a playoff spot.

“When you play a lot of games sometimes without practising, you lose a little bit of that detail,” Morrissey said of recent struggles, which haven’t been helped by now having seven regular skaters sidelined by injury.

“We’ve had a lot of changes in the lineup, changes in the roster with injuries and even lines themselves. To be able to run through some of those routes out there as a line or a D-pairing, sometimes it can just be a good reminder from earlier in the season or training camp. I think we made the most of our practice today. I thought the things we worked on were valuable. Like I said, a little reminder like that can be great after not practicing for a while.”

It looked like an eighth player might be headed to the infirmary when Morrissey’s arm twisted awkwardly during the first period against Minnesota after a collision with Matt Boldy. He went down the tunnel in agony, only to return a few minutes later and not miss a shift.

“Initially I was a little bit concerned. But thankfully it settled it down and I’m all good,” he said.

Just as important as the on-ice workout Wednesday was a longer-than-usual classroom session prior to hitting the ice, with the noon skate pushed back about 15 minutes as a result.

“We did some stuff in the morning, we had some meetings, went over some video, kind of touched up on some areas that we hadn’t be able to even get near in the last three or four weeks,” said Arniel. “It was good to get out there and walk through some of the things we hadn’t done in such a long time.”

Although a number of players are getting closer to a return — Saku Maenalanen could be back in the next week, with Cole Perfetti and Nikolaj Ehlers hopefully right behind him — there’s no magic wand to be waved. Arniel said a return to doing the things which became an early-season staple of the Jets, regardless of personnel, is key.

“Our structure is what we talked about from the very beginning and that’s what we needed to have in place and that’s what is going to get us through these tough times when you are going to have off nights,” said Arniel.

“That’s pretty much, for us to get out of this, that’s how we’re going to have to play. We can’t all of a sudden turn and reinvent some new kind of game. A lot of the emphasis (Tuesday) night and (Wednesday) morning is about hey, let’s go back to what we do well and that was eliminating the amount of scoring chances that we give up and create them from that good structure. They’ve had success doing it, so it’s something to fall back on. It really is just us getting a mindset that hey, it worked before. We just have to get back to doing it again. But it’s got to be consistent.”

As is avoiding a sluggish start like the one that saw the Wild jump to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period Tuesday.

“Our first seven, eight minutes, our details were off. We gave up some chances, we made some mistakes and gave Minnesota a chance to get a lead in our building and then they got to sit back on it,” said Arniel.

“It’s about momentum shifts that happen over the course of the game. If you allow teams, because you keep making mistake after mistake or you get away from how you want to play, you just let them gain confidence. And what we’ve done a good job of this year is taking confidence and momentum away from the opposition. We’ve really got teams on their heels because we’ve been consistent with our four lines, so to speak. Us going the same way all the time and making it hard on teams and knowing that they have to go through bodies to get to our goaltender. When we slip, that becomes a lot easier for the opposition.”

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Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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