Friday night, 7 pm, Rogers Arena, the Winnipeg Jets seek revenge against the Vancouver Canucks after a loss here back on November 19th, in a game some Jets fans refer to as the “Charity Bowl”. The then very-much-struggling Canucks picked up a 3-2 victory in a game in which the Jets did not receive a single power play. It was the only win for Vancouver in a ten game stretch that saw them go 1-8-and-1.
As to not wake him from his afternoon nap, I decided not to call Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice, but instead poached a portion of his interview with already legendary Jets play-by-play voice Paul “Jackie Gleason / Peter Griffin” Edmonds. Winnipeg won 3-0 in Seattle last night and didn’t have a morning skate or availability Friday at Rogers Arena.
Forward Kyle Connor is red hot. The Michigan-native potted two goals last night and sits tied for third in that department on the NHL leader board. Captain Blake Wheeler has finally picked up his game with nine assists over his last six games. He was so slow afoot early in the season that some questioned whether his career was winding down. He appears to be back.
As Maurice has pointed out, like with a concussion, everyone responds to and recovers from Covid-19 differently. Wheeler was symptomatic and missed four games in October.
The Jets sit with a record of 13-9-and-4 for 30 points, tied for the 2nd wild card spot in the western conference. Back-up goalie Eric Comrie gets the start in net.
Here’s Paul with Paul: (if you’d like, you can click on and hear the actual audio at the bottom of this story). I kept the slices with them talking about the game last night, Kyle Connor’s play, the back-to-back games, and the changes Vancouver has made and what he expects from a Bruce Boudreau coached team.
Paul Edmonds: … I might be overstating the obvious, but did everybody have a piece of that shut-out last night?
Paul Maurice: I would agree with that for sure. I thought, while we didn’t ask Connor Hellebuyck to be overly busy, the two or three saves that he made on the PK is the difference. The smothers on rebound control is very, very solid in that they had action early with heavy net front presence and he fought through it, and then he kind of settled into the game. I think for our game as a group, how it was built, I thought maybe we were a little bit tight early in how we moved the puck and then maybe a little bit stubborn in the second period with how we moved the puck. But our third period was simple, fast, smart and very well executed.
PE: A lot of discussions about Kyle Connor and improved play in certain areas, leading your team in goals, scoring, straight line speed and hands. But what about his East-West ability and the ability now to navigate out of traffic with the puck? Has that been an improvement that you’ve seen over the last year, year and a half, two years?
PM: Experience for those guys does mean an awful lot knowing when you can try those moves and when not to. And then when Mark and Blake are going, I think that both those guys were affected pretty greatly, with their illnesses and now they’re back moving. So you open up nice. And that’s what their strength is, right? If Mark Scheifele has the puck, you need to be, you know, you have to have somebody on him, but you that Kyle and Blake are going to get out of the way. They’re going to find holes. I thought, especially in the third period, they were very, very good at deciding when to be creative. You know, that’s a fantastic pass by Mark and Kyle gets out into that hole. But they put a lot of pucks deep and a lot of pucks in the offensive zone. And that’s a, you know, I think that’s why they’re goalie doesn’t come out. They get that extended shift in the offensive zone. It’s a smart shift. They don’t throw pucks away. They didn’t force. It’s that kind of speed and skill that box people off.
PE: In terms of Seattle, Vancouver, back to back. Is this manageable because you can barely, I think, had time to open up your book and read a chapter on the plane ride.
PM: We would like to think so, right. This is shorter than the bus ride from L.A. to Anaheim, (this flight) last night. So we’re at the hotel by 12:30. Back-to-back is a challenge. It’s more of a challenge if you’re four in six like we are than the back-to-back, but our minutes are fine. Kyle had a few minutes, but that’s only because Kyle and Mark were out there for the full two minutes of the power play. Everybody else’s minutes, Paul, are right where they need to be. We should have good energy here tonight.
PE: OK, and finally, they’ve got a new coach in Bruce Boudreau, a guy you know very well. So he’s only been here for a couple of games. He can’t tactically change everything. So what’s the first thing that you’re going to notice about his team tonight in Vancouver?
PM: They’re going to skate a whole hell of a lot better. And that’s not an indictment of Travis Green. That’s if you’re playing in the Canadian market, you’re going through what they’re going through. It weighs on the players. It’s real, right? And this game is so much about emotion and confidence and feeling positive and the energy you get from your home crowd. When you are feeling embarrassed about your play in front of your home crowd, you know you’re carrying a piano. So that piano got lifted off all these guys, they’ve got a good team and that’s the frustration there was. They like their team. They’ve got lots of skill, lots of speed, nice little piece of bite in their game with some (talented) guys. So they’re a better hockey team than their record, and that’s what happens when you fire a coach. There is a reset button and the pressure comes off and in a market like Vancouver, these guys are at least a half step faster. Eventually, you will see this team go to a speed game and they’ve got enough, and they’ve got enough skill, and it’s its young skill and Jim (Rutherford) will come in and they’ll find kind of that heartbeat of the style of play. And Bruce is very, very good at the speed offensive game.