The Winnipeg Jets are road weary, but they’re also road warriors.
After a solid 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday evening to finish a five-game eastern road trip with a 4-1-0 record, the Jets have an NHL-best 16-8-1 record away from Bell MTS Place.
They have lost back-to-back road games only once.
The Jets captured those four victories without captain Blake Wheeler, racking up the wins in different ways.
In Montreal, they got good results from new lines, rare offence from the blue line, and rock-solid goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck.
In Ottawa, after a sluggish 4-2 defeat, they gutted out a 3-2 win in a similarly low-energy grinder thanks to secondary scoring from Matthieu Perreault and Trevor Lewis.
In Toronto, the top guns popped off — with Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers combining for five goals and eight points — and a dogged forecheck kept the Maple Leafs’ stars mainly in check and from turning the game into a track meet.
No Last Game Lethargy
Perhaps most impressively, the Jets are thriving in the last games of long road trips, when it seems they’d be the most tired and most susceptible to a loss. They are a perfect 5-0-0 in the final contest of a three-plus-game road swing.
In fact, they’ve dominated in those five games, outscoring their opponents 23-9 and winning by three-plus goals on four occasions.
Less Travel, But More Games in Fewer Days
The Jets, like all other teams in the North Division, are traveling less this season due to the shorter campaign and more multi-game sets. They saw the biggest reduction in travel (-42 per cent) of any Canadian team.
Despite that, the schedule-makers set for them a difficult road to hoe over the past six weeks. They’ve played 17 away games since March 4 and only five home games.
They played five road games in 10 days between March 4 and March 13 and seven road games in 12 days between March 18 and March 29.
The last road trip was the toughest of all, with five games in just eight days.
Jets Swim, Not Sink, In Road-Heavy Stretch
Mark Scheifele credits the Jets’ depth and playing a simple game as factors in their success.
“First of all, we feel like we’ve been on the road forever, so that might be one of them,” Scheifele said post-game Thursday. “We go out there, we’re not worried about the line match ups, we’re not worried about any of that. We’re just worried about playing hockey. We’ve got four lines, six defencemen and fantastic goaltenders that can all play in every situation. It’s great to have a deep team.”
Head coach Paul Maurice also weighed in when asked about the reasons behind the team’s great road record.
“To be a good road team, (it takes) a bunch of things — You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to be hard. You have to be comfortable, patient playing a simple game. That’s the game… the road game is the game that’s played in the playoffs, so I would take that,” said Maurice.
Maurice repeatedly brought up that 17 of the past 22 games have been on the road.
“Somebody told me that hasn’t happened since 1980, a team playing that many games (on the road). We don’t get a road game in our time zone,” he said. “So when I looked at the schedule, that block from March 8 to the 19th of April for me was we were either going to sink or swim on that. And maybe what’s happened is we found our identity in that.”
“I fire it out on purpose a lot of times so people fully appreciate that it hasn’t been easy and this team’s done a good job.”
Jets Now Seek Success At Home
Scheifele, Maurice, and the rest of the Jets’ players and staff will finally get to sleep in their own beds for a while, as their next five games through April 28 will be at Bell MTS Place.
It was supposed to be six games, but COVID-related schedule changes to give the Vancouver Canucks more time to get back up to speed forced the Jets/Leafs matchup originally scheduled for April 24 to be pushed to May 14.
The home stand won’t be easy as all five games are against two of the North Divisions’ other top-four teams: three against the Edmonton Oilers and two against the Maple Leafs.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.