WINNIPEG — Pierre-Luc Dubois is tired of talking about last season and you can’t really blame him for that.
It was a nightmare on so many levels, even if there were some valuable lessons to file away in his memory bank for safe-keeping.
The Winnipeg Jets centre knows he can’t turn back the clock or hop in the hot tub time machine. There will be no mulligans provided, nor is he asking for one.
Dubois realizes the only way to put the disappointment behind him is to move forward, to write a new chapter in this journey with the Jets. To finally take advantage of that clean slate that was provided. For his actions to speak louder than his words.
On Saturday night, Dubois took the next step in that process and provided another glimpse of the player he can ultimately be in what became a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
This wasn’t just about Dubois barging his way to the front of the net to bang home a rebound after a point shot from Brenden Dillon, though that was a reward for going to an area that is often difficult to get to. Dubois was fully engaged and used his speed and power to generate plenty of scoring chances for himself and his linemates — including the execution of a perfect give-and-go with Nikolaj Ehlers that he fired just wide during the first period.
He was also responsible defensively and showed off some of his explosiveness.
The next step for Dubois is to bring this type of game on a more consistent basis. To make it the new normal.
“I think this game was better than the last. It’s going to be building one step at a time,” Dubois told reporters in California. “It’s just about playing fast, being physical and getting pucks to the net. The confidence is building. Once we string together wins, it’s going to feel even better. There’s a lot of things I can do better and I’m never really going to be satisfied with my game.”
That’s one of the things that’s stood out about Dubois virtually since his arrival. No matter how things are going, he knows there is always more to give. He has set high standards for himself and he’s disappointed when he doesn’t play up to his potential.
Accountability was never in question, even during the dry spells where he struggled to find his stride.
In order for the Jets to regroup from this disappointing 0-2 start, Dubois needs to be a play driver.
Nobody is asking him to produce three points a night, but he needs to be noticeable at both ends of the ice and he needs to be an impact player.
He’s been promoted to the Jets’ top power-play unit and while he’s playing a rather unfamiliar spot in the high slot, he’s trying to find his way and key in on the tendencies of those around him.
“There’s a lot of ways that you can be useful in the middle,” Dubois said. “If you’re in the right spot, you can open up a lot of things for yourself and for the others. If you look at TJ Oshie, he’s really good in Washington at not just scoring goals from there, but also creating space for a seam and creating space for a backdoor play in front of the net.
“You don’t always get rewarded on the stats sheet, but a win feels even better than a point, so it’s a lot of things. For me, it’s about learning how I can be effective there, but I’m feeling more and more comfortable every game.”
At a time the Jets are struggling mightily on the penalty kill — thanks in part to the off-season departures of Nate Thompson, Trevor Lewis and Mason Appleton — working Dubois into the mix in that area of special teams might warrant some consideration as well.
To this point, special teams have contributed mightily to the Jets’ slow start.
Not only have the Jets failed to convert any of the eight opportunities they’ve had with the man-advantage, but they’ve also given up one shorthanded marker — which came in the second period Saturday as veteran forward Andrew Cogliano cued the comeback for the Sharks to start a string of four consecutive goals that was finally stopped by Jansen Harkins at 13:28 of the third period.
And while Andrew Copp managed a shorthanded goal of his own to build a 2-0 lead, the Jets were unable to hold on Saturday. The penalty kill has mostly been problematic so far — surrendering four goals on 10 opportunities.
Yes, it’s a small sample size, but it’s also a hole the Jets are going to be forced to try and dig their way out of.
Of course, it’s early and special teams often require reps and tweaks — especially when new personnel is being integrated — but there’s no denying the suspect start in those two areas of special teams must be cleaned up quickly.
The Jets are going to be a far more dangerous team when the Dubois line is operating at peak efficiency.
Dubois was acquired in the blockbuster deal for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to provide the long-term solution to the second-line centre job, and he is more than capable of handling that responsibility.
Now it’s about showing it with regularity, which is precisely what Dubois is planning to do.
“For me, I hate talking about last year, but I’m feeling more and more comfortable,” Dubois said. “It’s about moving my feet, making plays and being smart. My game isn’t just about goals and assists, it’s (getting) sticks on the puck, it’s being good on the forecheck, keeping pucks in and getting pucks out. My game has a lot of things that don’t show up on the scoreboard, but at the end of the day it can help us win. It takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of concentration.”
As for what else the Jets need to focus on as they prepare to close out this three-game road trip with a Central Division meeting against the Minnesota Wild, that was easy for head coach Paul Maurice to identify.
“Well, the foundation of what we do has to be fast on both sides of the puck, regardless of routes and schemes and things like that with the puck,” Maurice said. “We've got to get a hell of a lot quicker.”