The Olympics are still going on in Sochi, but the Winnipeg Jets were back on the ice of the MTS Centre on Wednesday night, as the team prepares for a playoff push that would see the franchise in the post-season for the first time in eight seasons.
Since Paul Maurice took over the reigns as head coach, the Jets have gone 9-3-1, and have the highest winning percentage in the entire NHL in that time. Winnipeg currently sits two points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but are two games ahead of both the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes.
The Jets saw some friendly faces return to action, as Matt Halischuk, Jim Slater, and Evander Kane were all in attendance after missing time with numerous injuries. Kane had been out since January 26th, while Halischuk was on the Injured Reserve since mid-December, a place that Slater has occupied since late October.
Paul Maurice also announced that Devin Setoguchi (who is at the forefront of trade rumors) has a bursa sac issue in his elbow, but it won’t threaten his training. Tobias Enstrom was also described as having a “nagging lower-body injury” by the coach, who also said “he’d be in the lineup” if the Jets played today.
The Jets are still without their four Olympians: starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and first-line wing Michael Frolik saw their tournament ended by teammate Blake Wheeler and the USA on Wednesday, who advance to the semi-finals to play Canada. On the other side, Olli Jokinen and Finland defeated the hometown Russians to secure a date with Sweden in the other semi-final.
Maurice, who has coached over Olympic breaks before with the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, stressed that conditioning was a component to the practice, but not the main focus:
“We know the term ‘training camp’ gets fired around, we haven’t done that in the past, it’s not “let’s see how hard we can beat these guys up”, that’s for training camp.. We’re going to get them back up to speed as quick as we possibly can.”
Maurice also added that the team would work on aggressiveness in the defensive zone, and tweak the lines with the addition of Halischuk and Slater back into the fold.
Defenseman Zach Bogosian believes that the team can pick up right where they left off entering the break, and remain one of the League’s hottest teams:
“If we keep the pace that we were playing at, playing the full games like we were, things shouldn’t be any different for us, we just have to make sure we are playing the same style.. There’s a lot of games to play during March, and we have to stay on top of things.”
The Jets return to action in one week’s time, when they take on the Phoenix Coyotes in Winnipeg on February 27th. The Jets have eight home games in March, but finish the month on a five-game road trip.
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