WINNIPEG — And on the 13th day, the Winnipeg Jets moved into the bubble.
The formal portion of training camp 2.0 is officially over and preparations are moving into overdrive.
Just how will players and coaches adapt within the confines of the atmosphere caused by the global pandemic, which includes teams having a hotel floor to themselves inside the secure zone?
That remains a huge question mark and it’s not outlandish to suggest how people adjust to the new normal could impact how long a team can stick around this expanded hockey tournament.
“I sat through that presentation,” said Maurice. “They’ve got a section of a city cordoned off for us to be able to get around. I’m looking forward to getting into it just to see some of those things. I understand it’ll ramp up as we get going here. It’s going to be interesting.
“We get the John Ferguson Sr. rules here for the first six days. We’re locked on our floor and you’re not allowed to look at a guy from the other team. It’s not going to be casual. You’ll say hello to the people that you know and you’ll have your five-minute conversation, but the playoffs are a really, really busy time. This will get to all business pretty quick and we’ll all kind of keep to ourselves.”
Jets centre Mark Scheifele said he packed some extra underwear, winger Patrik Laine said he was packing his gaming station and goalie Connor Hellebuyck figured his packing would focus on bringing a little extra entertainment for his downtime.
“I’ve got to keep myself busy and just do the right things to kind of prepare, relax and recover, too,” said Hellebuyck. “No day’s going to be a wasted day.”
With the lone exhibition game against the Vancouver Canucks just a few days away and less than a week until their best-of-five, play-in series with the Calgary Flames gets going, now it’s all about the finer details for the Jets.
The hands and feet are getting back up to speed for players after more than four months between actual games.
“We’re not usually in a situation where we’re practising this long in a row, without games to break it up. But everyone understands this is a unique situation and that we only have three weeks to really get ready to go for playoff-calibre hockey,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey.
“Everyone’s been taking it seriously. After a few days, it’s nice to go against someone who’s not your buddy. I’m sure the forwards are tired of the D and the D are a little tired of the forwards, and the goalies are probably tired of everyone shooting at their head. It’ll be nice to get into games.”
The monotony of training camp is about to give way for the chase for the Stanley Cup.
“It doesn’t take much to make me happy, as long as there’s a hockey stick in my hand I’m pretty happy,” said Scheifele. “So, I’m ready to get rolling and get to Edmonton and play some hockey. We’re going with all our best friends into this bubble and we’re going to play the game we love, so that’s the only thought I have.
“We get to compete for the Stanley Cup and that’s the ultimate dream.”
The Jets got a refresher course on how the Flames are expected to play against them and the next few days will be spent trying to fine-tune things.
“Well, we’re not hiding a whole lot of stuff. But smaller details, yeah, we still have stuff that we need to cover,” said Maurice. “We wanted to make sure that in that last week, we return the focus to the Jets and not be particularly Calgary-specific.”
The Jets skated on Sunday morning before flying to Edmonton and there was some positive news on the injury front, as Nikolaj Ehlers was back skating on the second line with Laine and Cody Eakin.
Ehlers left Thursday’s session early, the Jets took Friday off and when the speedy Danish forward skated with the second group Saturday, there was some concern about the nature of his injury/ailment.
But with Maurice choosing to insert Gabriel Bourque on the second line for Saturday’s session, that was a good indication that Ehlers wasn’t dealing with something serious and that he wouldn’t be on the shelf long-term.
Jansen Harkins was also back on the ice Sunday after he was “unfit to practice” a day earlier.
One of the big concerns coming into training camp for the Jets (and other teams around the NHL) surrounded the health of the players.
To this point, the Jets have done a good job of avoiding bumps and bruises — not to mention the nagging groin and hip injuries — that often occur in a training camp environment.
Will that continue during the week ahead, especially after the first game action players will be encountering since Mar. 11?
It won’t take long to find out, though it’s important to remember that most teams implement a cone of silence mentality and aren’t exactly forthcoming when it comes to injury news once the playoffs begin.
Toss in the protocols brought in by the pandemic and there won’t be much revealed by coaches during the coming weeks and months when it comes to questions about guys who could be banged up.
NO LINEUP QUESTIONS (YET)
With the exception of Ehlers skipping a couple of scrimmages, the Jets’ lines and defence pairings have been consistent since training camp started.
Barring any unforeseen developments, the Jets plan to open the way they finished things off in March.
Scheifele is back between captain Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor, Eakin is with Laine and Ehlers, Adam Lowry will centre Andrew Copp and Jack Roslovic, and Nick Shore is on the fourth line with Mathieu Perreault and Mason Appleton.
On the back end, Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo (who have been dominant during training camp), Neal Pionk and Dmitry Kuliov and Tucker Poolman and Nathan Beaulieu make up the defence pairings.
That leaves Harkins and Bourque as the next two forwards on the depth chart and veteran blue-liner Luca Sbisa as the seventh D-man.
Maurice admits that since the play-in series is a best-of-five instead of a best-of-seven, being adaptable is going to be even more important than usual.
BRING ON THE HEAVY LOAD
Nobody had more appearances than Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck this season (He and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens had 58, though Price had two more starts), but he’s feeling fresh and ready for a heavy workload during the playoffs.
Despite a schedule that includes three games in four days (including games on consecutive days for Games 2 and 3), Hellebuyck doesn’t anticipate needing any breaks in the action during the postseason.
“For me, I have to be prepared to play every single night if I have to, if I’m called upon,” said Hellebuyck. “It might be a grind, but I feel that I’ve done everything correct to prepare for it and I wouldn’t change a thing that I’ve done so far. Not only am I am excited for it, I feel I’m very prepared for it as well.”
Much has been made of the fact the Jets and Flames only met once this season, which was in October’s Heritage Classic in Regina.
Since then, the Flames changed coaches and both teams made several important additions on the personnel side of things.
Might that impact things when the puck drops?
“Not specifically. But I do have some experience in playing them,” said Hellebuyck, who is 5-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and one shutout in nine career appearances against the Flames. “I think experience is going to play a huge role in these playoffs. As opposed to trying to break down every single player, you can drive yourself nuts because you never know what they’re going to bring to the table because they’re obviously working on their game, so I’m just going to focus on making myself complete as a goaltender and that should cover all the aspects.”