If the old saying that “practice makes perfect” truly applies, then the Winnipeg Jets should be well positioned to take on what shapes up to be one of their most challenging weeks of the schedule when they visit Washington, Nashville, Boston and Pittsburgh over a six-day span from Tuesday through Sunday.
The Capitals, Predators, Bruins and Penguins began the week with a combined home record of 43-22-8. And other than Washington – with just one win in the last six games – Nashville is 12-2-2 in their last 16 games while Boston has won five straight and 10 of 13 overall while Pittsburgh is on a five game home winning streak during a 12-2 run.
The Jets have been practicing a lot over the past four plus weeks. During that 29 day stretch, Winnipeg has played a grand total of 4 games, and have won 3 of them. That “anything but normal” schedule was as quiet as it was because of nine games being postponed due to COVID-19 related circumstances that included cross border travel and attendance restrictions in Canada.
But things are going to ramp up considerably leading into and coming out of the February 4-5 NHL All Star break in Las Vegas.
Starting tomorrow night in Washington, the Jets will play 8 games in 13 days, with 6 of those 8 games on the road. It was the Capitals who supplied the opposition exactly one month ago to the day of this writing. The day Paul Maurice stepped down as Head Coach and was succeeded by Dave Lowry.
“I would not have known it was a month, it has gone extremely quick,” said Lowry following Monday’s practice at Canada Life Centre. “There’s been a lot going on, and there’s been a lot to deal with.”
Most of that was a result of COVID. Starting on December 21 and continuing through late last week, Andrew Copp, Kristian Vesalainen, Dylan DeMelo, Jansen Harkins, Nikolaj Ehlers, Paul Stastny, Logan Stanley, Nathan Beaulieu, Kristian Reichel, Brenden Dillon, Eric Comrie, taxi squadders Ville Heinola and Arvid Holm, along with Matt Prefontaine and Wade Flaherty of the coaching staff all went into NHL mandated isolation as a result of submitting positive tests.
Toss in an assortment of injuries to the likes of David Gustafsson, Evgeny Svechnikov, CJ Suess, and Stastny, and yes, there has been plenty of lineup “cutting, pasting, and editing” for Lowry and his coaches to sort through on a game to game basis. Which may explain by the interim bench boss wasn’t taking anything for granted as the team prepared to board the plane for Washington, D.C.
“We realize we have four hard games this week, but for us, our focus isn’t what’s going to happen on the weekend. We’ve got to go in with the mindset we have to be ready to play Washington,” said Lowry who has guided the Jets to a 4-2 record since taking over from Maurice. “There’s a lot of variables that come into it now. We’re not roster certain — whose available to play. The guys that are gonna play, they’ll be excited to play, they’ll be ready to play, and they’ll be rested.”
“Almost” certain to be included in that group is 2020 first round pick Cole Perfetti, who played on a line with Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois in last Thursday’s 3-0 win at Detroit and registered a season high 14:10 of ice time.
Lowry made it sound like Perfetti had done enough to get another look in the top six for the road trip opener.
“I see a player who has very high skill. And we want to play him with some players he can compliment,” explained the interim bench boss. “Obviously we want him to get to KC’s speed at some point. And we want him to be able to play in that spot.”
What that means for the return of Blake Wheeler remains to be seen. The Winnipeg Captain skated with the team on Monday for the first time since injuring his right leg in the third period of a 4-3 shootout loss at Vancouver back on December 10.
Wheeler, who will miss only his eighth game tomorrow night, was in a non-contact jersey for Monday’s workout but will be with the team on the trip. And the Jets Head Coach did not outright reject the notion the veteran right winger “might” see some action before the weekend is over. “It’s a positive he’s on the ice, it’s a positive he’s with the group,” said Lowry. “Whether or not he’s an option, we’ll see how the week progresses. That’ll be up to Blake and the medical staff.”
Paul Stastny did not practice on Monday, but was also on the trip. Lowry said the morning would tell if the veteran forward would be a player for Tuesday’s game.