WINNIPEG — The offensive well was running a bit dry.
Going six periods without a five-on-five goal is certainly going to catch the attention of most head coaches and Paul Maurice was no different.
After the Winnipeg Jets bench boss saw his team get blanked 4-0 by the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, Maurice made a notable admission about some bad habits creeping in and a plea to his players to simplify things in the offensive zone.
No, Maurice wasn’t asking his skilled players to abandon their creativity entirely, nor was he asking this group to adopt a shoot-from-anywhere mentality just to generate a few additional clicks on the shot clock.
But when a good scoring chance presents itself, don’t necessarily look for the perfect play or the seam pass for the backdoor tap-in.
The message was not a complicated one: be more direct.
It took just over five minutes for the approach to be rewarded and by the time the final buzzer sounded, the Jets had earned a decisive 5-2 victory over the Canucks in what was one of the most complete efforts they’d put forth this season.
Not only did the Jets improve to 14-7-1 to move into sole possession of second place in the North Division, but they’re also now 6-0-1 when coming off a loss and have yet to drop consecutive games in regulation time through 22 games.
“Short-term memory,” said Jets forward Paul Stastny. “A lot of times, you’re playing the same team again, so you want to get the edge early on. But more than anything, it’s just been the mindset that we’ve had from the start with Paul (Maurice) is all about if you can try to get a winning streak, do it. But as important as that is, getting off a losing streak as quick as possible is important too.”
The premise of not wanting to drop consecutive games is standard fare, but the ability to actually achieve that common goal is much more difficult.
This game represents another example of the Jets’ steely resolve — and a glimpse of the template they’re trying to employ on a regular basis.
Getting the offensive engine fired up again after getting shut out for the first time this season was important, but the Jets were also stingy defensively and paid close attention to the details.
They used their speed to be disruptive on the forecheck, they got a power-play goal and another technically-sound performance from backup goalie Laurent Brossoit, who made 30 saves to improve to 4-1 this season.
“I don’t want to get too confident, too cocky,” said Brossoit, who raised his save percentage to .936 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.19. “It’s the best league in the world and there’s great players out there, so I like to keep myself pretty grounded and realistic. I just prepare as best I can and hope that my best is better than anyone else in the league.”
Brossoit’s best to this point has been downright sensational.
There is no need to be on high alert when the Jets turn to the No. 2 man on the depth chart, his teammates realize they can count on him.
“This year, every time (Brossoit) got in net, he got the job done for us,” said Jets winger Mathieu Perreault. “He’s been rock solid. And the same with (Connor Hellebuyck). This is a key for every team that wants to contend for a Stanley Cup. You’ve got to have a goalie that makes the save, and we are lucky to have two of them that can do that.”
After being held off the scoresheet in consecutive games for the first time this season, Jets centre Mark Scheifele chipped in three assists.
Scheifele, who was on the receiving end of a big check from Alex Edler in the first period on Tuesday, has collected at least a point in 18 of 22 games this season and has recorded three points on four occasions as he increased his totals to 11 goals and 31 points.
The newly-formed top line of Scheifele between Blake Wheeler (an empty-net goal and two assists) and Stastny (an insurance goal) had a strong night, but the complementary players were also right in the middle of the action.
Aside from Perreault’s important contribution, Mason Appleton established a career-high with his sixth goal of the season to get the Jets on the board.
Not only has Appleton been able to solidify his spot on the Jets’ checking line, but he’s also blossoming as a penalty killer and showing off the offensive flair that was on display when he put up 66 points as a rookie pro with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
“You go into every season, you always want more,” said Appleton. “I’m still a young player in this league. I’m playing more minutes and that gives me more confidence and lets my game evolve.
“You don’t just get bigger, faster, stronger overnight. It’s a product of years and a product of opportunity. I’ve really liked my development path and I’m going to keep my foot on the gas and keep trying to get better every single day.”
Appleton is a shining example for some of the young guys in the Jets’ system who are currently having trouble getting into the lineup or are currently down in the minors.
“He’s really developed into accepting a style of play that he can excel at,” said Maurice. “So, it’s different than Nikolaj Ehlers or Kyle Connor. It’s a different style of game. Killing penalties, playing with Adam (Lowry), they play against the other team’s best an awful lot. And there’s offence there, it’s just going to look different. It’s going to be a different style.
“(Tuesday) was a perfect example. Drive the net twice, once for a goal, once for a drawn penalty that leads to a goal. That’s real offence. That’s not a less-skilled offensive game. As a matter of fact, as the games become, as you move close and closer to the playoffs and into the playoffs, that’s the style of game that’s played and he should be able to excel in that.”
When asked about the contributions of Appleton and Perreault, Brossoit’s face lit up and he was bursting with pride.
“I see those guys practice hard, I see those guys preparing for the game,” said Brossoit. “(With) how little ice time they get and to still be effective is something I can relate to. And seeing guys like that playing so well lately, it’s great to see.”
With 12 of the next 14 games on the road and 17 games in 31 days during the month of March, the Jets are staring at the most difficult portion of the schedule.
This survival-of-the-fittest stretch continues with a five-game road trip that begins with two games against the Montreal Canadiens (beginning Thursday) and a three-game series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Can the Jets (who have won five of the past six games) keep it up and possibly start closing the gap for top spot between themselves and the Maple Leafs?
It won’t take long to find out.
At a time when it seems like several North Division teams are frequently dealing with a potential crisis, the Jets feel like they’re just starting to get into a groove.
“Every time you put points in the standings and you see the name of your team moving on up, it’s a good feeling,” said Perreault. “This is the feeling that we want to keep around this locker room. It’s nice to be sitting there right now (in second place) and going on the road, hopefully we can keep going up.”