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Fists fly in Winnipeg: Wheeler and Chiarot exchange pleasantries in practice altercation

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WINNIPEG — The gloves came off at Winnipeg Jets practice on Saturday.

A small scuffle that involved a couple of Jets players ensued after a point shot was taken by Blake Wheeler during a drill. That melee turned into fists being tossed between Wheeler and Jets defensemen Ben Chiarot, with Wheeler being sent to the dressing room by coach Paul Maurice after the fight broke up.

“It’s just boys being boys,” said Chiarot, who had a small cut on his nose after practice. “Tempers get up. Intensity in practice is always a good thing and that’s something we’re trying to bring here before the playoffs. I look at it as a good thing.”

Wheeler didn’t speak to the media following being sent off. He appeared to be sporting a welt over his left eye and tossed his helmet into the Jets bench before heading down the tunnel.

The Jets own a 10-point stranglehold on the second seed in the Central Division and appear set for their first playoff appearance in three seasons.

Winnipeg notched its 100th point of the season on Friday in a 3-2 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks.

Mark Scheifele, who was in the vicinity, said he was just an innocent bystander in the ordeal.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I was just sitting in the slot, I don’t know if I had anything (to do with it.)”

Paul Maurice watched the fracas from center ice but didn’t say anything until Wheeler’s glove’s game off, at which point he yelled for the pair to stop.

“You’d like a few more of those during the year if you could,” Maurice said after practice.

When pressed as to why, Maurice spoke of keeping the intensity level high throughout the season.

“Our theory in how we practice is really short, as fast as we can, a full-contact sport,” Maurice said. “In the games, somebody gets an elbow up, somebody gets a piece of someone that happens and occasionally in practice that’s going to happen. It’s all good.”

Jets forward Adam Lowry said players were already moved on to the joking phase following the altercation.

“They might be mad at each other for 10 minutes, but you don’t expect a grudge to be held too long,” Lowry said. “I’m sure (by Sunday), they’ll be laughing about it.”

Asked if there would be any repercussions for either player, Maurice shared a joke.

“There will be no family meeting tomorrow,” he said. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Winnipeg Jets reaping rewards after buying into team defense

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WINNIPEG — There was a time in Winnipeg where a one-goal lead would end in a one-goal loss. A time when no lead was safe and it was oddly better to see the Jets trying to climb back from behind than leading heading down the home stretch.

The Jets have learned much since those days, as evidenced by their top spot in the Central Division.

A 90-second 6-on-4 to close out Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks highlighted a new shift in how the Jets conduct their business on the ice.

The above scenario may have spelled doom more often than not in years gone by, but Sunday illuminated how the Jets have been able to overcome those demons and forge ahead with a new philosophy that deploys calmness instead of frantic, poise instead of instability.

The Jets simply bore down when times became tough late in Sunday’s game. Those 90 seconds showed the evolution of the maturity within the team’s defensive structure. They didn’t allow a single shot to touch All-Star goalie Connor Hellebuyck and time simply expired for the Canucks, who couldn’t solve Winnipeg’s riddle.

“I think we’re able to play in those tight games, those low-scoring games and feel we can win those,” said defenseman Josh Morrissey, who has been the Jets best blueliner this season. “I think that’s been a big growth point for our time.”

Indeed.

Winnipeg’s buy-in defensively has ushered in some outstanding results.

Hellebuyck has been nothing short of spectacular between the pipes for the Jets this season, with his recent All-Star nod a testament to an overall turnaround that went from him coming into the season as the No. 2 to the Michigan native being mentioned in part of any conversation that includes the name Vezina.

While the Jets have benefitted from timely saves from their No. 1, Hellebuyck has benefitted from the five in front of him.

No starting goalie in the NHL has seen less high-danger shot attempts than Hellebuyck.

Not Andrei Vasilevskiy. Not Sergei Bobrovsky. Not Tuukka Rask.

“That’s part of the thing where we want to limit the chances against… limiting that second and third opportunity… sort of by not panicking in those situations when a scrum happens or a chance against happens and being able to have some poise and sort it out, so to speak,” Morrissey said.

[Winnipeg Jets have finally arrived]

The buy-in from the fifth youngest team in the NHL, and one that scores more goals than all but three other NHL outfits, is remarkable.

“I think they have a real strong understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing (defensively),” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said after Sunday’s win. “We’re still young in just age on some guys, but the overall structure their understanding’s good. I think the back end has really helped. You take two centers (Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry) out of your lineup it puts an awful lot of stress on your defense.”

Maurice has spoken at length about the reasons he feels his team has figured out the defensive aspects of the game of hockey. He touched on part of the equation on Sunday.

“Having six NHL defencemen makes a difference,” Maurice said, alluding to the fact the Jets spent very little time healthy on the blue line last season. “Being healthy on the back end makes a difference. They control an awful lot of the play. (We’ve got a ) goaltender who’s got a lot of confidence in the pipes. And I go back to center ice. We’ve asked Blake (Wheeler) and Andrew Copp to be really strong and they have been.”

Even the team’s most offensive and offensively gifted player is seeing the light.

“As a team, it doesn’t matter if we’re chasing or leading, we want to play the same game,” said Patrik Laine, the Finnish phenom who leads the Jets with 21 goals this season. “We want to play tight defense and give them nothing and try to be patient. We can’t open up our game.”

Laine, who played his 100th NHL game only recently, has stumbled at times this season. His offensive capabilities haven’t left him, even if his confidence has at times this year, but he’s had little choice but to work on the game played in his own zone.

And the 19-year-old seems to have a keen understanding of what lies ahead for the Jets as they grind toward their second playoff berth since relocating from Atlanta in 2011.

“It’s going to be like this for the next couple of months but everybody here in this locker room is comfortable with that kind of game and that’s the reason why we’re winning,” Laine said. “We’re a tight defensive team and we’ve got to score on the few chances that we get.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Wheeler helps Jets; Keller keeps scoring

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Player of the Night: Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets beat the Dallas Stars for the second time in less than a week with a 4-1 win on Monday. The captain was involved in all four goals with four primary assists, two of which came on tallies from Mark Scheifele. Wheeler is now third in the NHL with 21 points.

Highlight of the Night:

The rock-paper-scissors battle between Scheifele and Tyler Seguin continued:

MISC:

Patrik Laine has goals in three straight games since he talked about his confidence issues.

Well done by Trevor Strader on Hockey Fights Cancer night in Dallas.

John Carlson’s second career overtime goal helped give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes:

Clayton Keller scored his NHL rookie-leading 11th goal of the year for the Coyotes.

Alex Ovechkin netted his 216th career power play goal. He’s now one behind Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner for 10th all-time:

Mika Zibanejad handed out three assists as the New York Rangers fought back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3. All three of Zibanejad’s helpers came on the power play, where the Rangers scored on three of their five chances.

• Five different goal scorers powered the Boston Bruins a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild. Jordan Szwarz recorded two assists, his first NHL points since March 26, 2015.

Mitch Marner scored the only goal in the shootout as the Toronto Maple Leafs prevented a Vegas Golden Knights comeback with a 4-3 victory. Nazem Kadri scored a pair of goals in the opening period.

Tomas Tatar‘s goal with 1:14 remaining snapped a 2-2 tie and helped the Detroit Red Wings to a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The goal was Tatar’s 200th career point.

Chris Tanev is going to want to forget this one, thanks to Anthony Mantha:

Daniel Sedin‘s goal was the 992nd point of his career.

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Toronto 4, Vegas 3 (SO)
New York Rangers 5, Columbus 3
Washington 3, Arizona 2 (OT)
Boston 5, Minnesota 3
Winnipeg 4, Dallas 1
Detroit 3, Vancouver 2

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Winnipeg Jets ’15-16 Outlook

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As crucial as it was to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg, the 2015-16 season is even bigger for the Jets.

After years of frustration, management’s slow-and-steady approach showed serious returns, but the franchise is heading toward multiple forks in the road.

Let’s consider some of the big factors ahead.

Contract years for key players – Hockey fans can debate whether Dustin Byfuglien’s the biggest name on the Jets or not, but he’s the earth-shaking wild card. Andrew Ladd is the gritty, stable winger who might just be the polar opposite. They’ve been immensely important players in Winnipeg, but what does the future hold?

Aging core –  It’s easy to look at 21-year-old Jacob Trouba and 22-year-old Mark Scheifele and picture a bright future, especially with a generally well-regarded farm system.

For all the future talk, it’s a make-or-break season for the current crop of key players. Byfuglien is 30, Ladd is 29, Blake Wheeler is 28 and Bryan Little is 27.

Those core players aren’t ancient, but management probably needs to see them win some playoff games (or even series) to justify keeping the band together.

Goalie question – To especially weary Winnipegers, Ondrej Pavelec’s contract probably feels endless, and it does still have two years remaining. Management is sticking with Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, which is a short-term gamble. Are they any closer to making a decision that reaches a little further?

***

The Jets have some big questions to answer next season, yet let’s not forget: Winnipeg hasn’t been home to an NHL team with this sort of potential for a long, long time.

PHT Morning Skate: Wheeler says don’t put ads on ‘sacred’ jerseys

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Is Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien really a changed man? (Sportsnet)

Speaking of changes, Alex Burmistrov discusses the ones he went through in two years away from Winnipeg. (TSN)

Jacques Lemaire explains why he left the New Jersey Devils. (Newark Star-Ledger)

So, how is the “Shana-plan” going? (Toronto Sun)

Martin Jones’ new lid.

NHL fans aren’t the only people cringing at the thought of advertisements being placed on uniforms. Blake Wheeler isn’t on board with the idea, either:

Speaking of hockey sweaters, check out this clash of two great logos outside of the NHL. (The Hockey News)