WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets took a much-needed day off Monday, after coming out on top of a tiring international tour that saw them play nine of their last 11 games on the road, ending with a back-to-back sleep killer on the weekend.
They now get a three-game breather at home — starting Tuesday night when the New Jersey Devils (8-8-2) visit the MTS Centre — before hitting the road again. Overall they play six of the next nine in Winnipeg. The Devils took their first meeting with the Jets this season 2-1 in a shootout Oct. 30, the second of those nine road games.
The Jets (9-7-3) picked up 12 of a possible 18 points in those games and even salvaged a point in the last, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. The result was made even better considering they started by surrendering three unanswered goals in the first period.
"I’m happy with this game more than any other," coach Paul Maurice said after the chippy contest that closed their final five-game swing, which started Nov. 8 in Ottawa.
"It was all about us and handling everything the right way, and we did."
It wasn’t without a price. Sophomore centre Mark Scheifele, who missed a good chunk of his rookie 2013-14 season with a knee injury, went down with what looked like another knee ailment and didn’t return. The team hasn’t announced how serious it may be.
"Those kind of injuries start happening when you stress bodies the way we’ve had to," said Maurice, none too pleased with a schedule that had them hit the ice 15 hours after their plane landed in the Twin Cities from Nashville, where they played Saturday night.
The Jets are now three points ahead of where they were last season after 19 games and seem to have firmly established their new defensive style of play, which despite that three-goal opener Sunday has made them one of the stingiest teams in the league. On the downside, they’re also one of the lowest-scoring in the NHL and their power play continues to be one of the least successful. They struck out eight times Sunday night, including at a couple of five-on-threes.
As for the poor start Sunday, Maurice and the Jets credited the killer schedule plus a couple of bad bounces, although starting netminder Ondrej Pavelec in back-to-back games might have contributed. He was pulled after the first period against the Wild.
"We didn’t have as much bite in our game tonight, no one would after the schedule we’ve just run through," said Maurice after the game.
"(Nashville) was a hard fought game and you don’t recover from (it) in under a day."
Nashville was one of only two regulation losses the Jets gave up in those nine road games. The other was on Tuesday in Montreal.
Winnipeg’s power play continues to languish near the bottom of the league, though, with just six goals in 62 chances. Only Minnesota and Buffalo are struggling more, although the Wild managed to come through with one Sunday.
And with just 35 goals in their 19 games, the Jets are also third from the bottom in scoring this season. Getting three goals in the third period to get back into the game in Minnesota was huge, said forward Michael Frolik.
"Hopefully it’s going to help us in the future, we’ve had trouble with scoring," he said.
The Devils, meanwhile, are starting a four-game road swing of their own and are taking centre Adam Henrique and defenceman Jon Merrill along. Henrique, who scored a team-high 25 goals last season, has missed the last six games due to injury and Merrill last played Nov. 1.
After Winnipeg, the Devils visit Edmonton Friday, Calgary on Saturday and Vancouver next Tuesday. The Jets host the Detroit Red Wings Thursday and St. Louis Blues on Sunday, before hitting the road again with three games in four days, starting in Columbus.