A three-game winning streak has the Winnipeg Jets tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs atop the North Division, but the germination of that success goes further back, according to captain Blake Wheeler.
As the Jets prepare for a Saturday clash at Calgary, a follow-up from Winnipeg’s 3-2 win over the Flames on Friday, Wheeler said the tell-tale sign his team was on track goes back to their March 9 win over the Maple Leafs.
“Our game kinda rounded into form,” Wheeler said. “We played a superfreak in Edmonton (star Connor McDavid) who did some damage to us, and that was a learning experience, but our game has been good for a bit now. That gives you confidence to win every night.
“There’s going to be nights it doesn’t go your way, but that’s when you build confidence even if it doesn’t go your way, the next night you can rely on a brand of hockey that can give you success.”
The Jets have been hugely successful this season against the Flames, having posted a 4-1-1 record, but their style of play would fare well against any team these days. Winnipeg is succeeding thanks to timely offense, a lethal power play and strong defense.
It’s the final part of that equation that has Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice happiest.
“We have some offensive players going out to do the right things to win hockey games, and if that means better defense than offense, than that’s the game we’re going to try to play,” Maurice said. “I think they have their minds right. It’s maturity.
“We’re here to win hockey games, not score goals. But when you’re really young, that’s how you break into the league, being that offensive-style player. Now we’ve got guys competing defensively, even if they came into the league as offensive players.”
The Flames, who have lost four straight games — all in regulation — for the first time this season and managed only four goals total in those defeats, are on the other side of that spectrum. In fact, they appear to be getting worse.
After ending a miserable road trip with consecutive losses to the cellar-dwelling Ottawa Senators, the Flames caused their own downfall Friday against Winnipeg, starting with their performance at the start.
“We had some real dopey hockey players in the first period. It cost us the hockey game,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. “We had some dopey players that didn’t wake up till we were down a goal, which is unfortunate.
“The urgency’s there when we’re down a goal, but you have to have the strength and mental toughness to always play through that. You don’t always have a lead in this league.”
Foolish and costly penalties crushed Sutter’s squad. A late comeback effort made it a one-goal deficit at the end, but the Flames fell far short of executing like a team that knows it’s already in an uphill fight to make the playoffs.
“We’re coming off three losses in a row and need to be way better than that,” Calgary forward Sean Monahan said. “We gave ourselves a chance to come back, but we put ourselves in that situation where we’re chasing the game. On home ice, we want to be much harder than we’ve shown and we’ve got to show that (Saturday).”
A big key will be to play with urgency without panicking when anything goes wrong.
“Focus on winning one game,” Flames veteran forward Milan Lucic said of his advice to his teammates. “We’re back at it (Saturday) at home against the same team. Focus on winning that one game and try to get on a roll.
“All year long, we haven’t been able to really get on a roll and there’d be no better time than now to get on one, but it starts with the first one and so our focus goes into (Saturday) night.”
–Field Level Media