By: Will Burchfield
NHL teams don’t often go full throttle for 60 minutes on a given night in December. It wouldn’t be sustainable over the course of a six-month season.
But with the Red Wings in the midst of a seven-game slide and coming off an embarrassing 10-1 loss to the Canadiens, Jets head coach Paul Maurice expects his team to be in for quite a challenge Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena.
“You’re going to see a really unusual event here,” Maurice said after the Jets’ morning skate. “There’s a gear change in the NHL at the All-Star break and everybody knows that when you hit the playoffs you get a fully-focused, wired team, and that’s the coach’s challenge over 82 (games). You never really get 20 guys chomping at the bit, solely focused on one concept, which for them will be winning battles and competing, especially this early in the season.
“This will be as difficult a game as we’ve played all year based on what we’ve seen, what we know of their leadership in the room and what we’ve heard about their group.”
The Red Wings have gotten away from the “repeatable” brand of hockey, as head coach Jeff Blashill likes to say, that helped them pick up points in six of seven games at the beginning of November. Things hit rock bottom on Saturday night in Montreal, prompting Blashill to run an intense, spirited practice on Monday.
“We don’t have big size, so we have to be a team that’s ultra-competitive and winning puck battles, and that was what we emphasized,” said Blashill. “That was from our coaching staff.”
The Jets enter play Tuesday night tied with the Lightning for the most points in the NHL. They’re 9-2-1 dating back to Nov. 11 and are fresh off a 5-0 drubbing of the Senators on Sunday. But Maurice doesn’t want his team to get comfortable.
“That game against Ottawa broke, really, after we got the two power play goals (in the second period). This game is not going to break here tonight,” Maurice said. “It’s just going to be full-on right until the very end.”
Jets forward Andrew Kopp, an Ann Arbor native and Michigan product, echoed his coach.
“We know they’re going to be ready to go tonight, especially after Saturday. … It’s going to be a huge test for us, so we have to be ready to go right from the start,” said Kopp.
The Jets stumbled through October, losing five of their first nine games. They’ve been one of the best teams in hockey since, largely because of their speed.
“We’re fast,” Kopp said. “We’ve got to a game where we don’t need to do too much. We create a lot just based off our speed and our skill level, so we don’t need to push it too much.”
Blashill picked up the same thing watching the Jets on tape.
“They’re really, really pressuring the puck well, not really having to play a whole bunch of defense. They have the puck almost the whole game,” he said. “I think in hockey one of the two teams has the other one on their heels, and in the games I’ve watched, most of the time Winnipeg had their opponents on their heels. We have to put them on their heels, otherwise it’ll be a tough night.”