Amid the latest COVID-19 surge, the Winnipeg Jets are once again headed for an extended layoff this week as their next game isn’t scheduled until Thursday. In the meantime, holding daily practices will be their only way of staying in rhythm without any games to be played.
With attendance restrictions currently in place across Canada, including at Canada Life Centre, the National Hockey League has postponed the majority of Winnipeg’s home games for this month, as the only two remaining contests on the schedule are slated for Jan. 25 and Jan. 27. But at this rate, it remains to be seen if those home dates will indeed take place without delay.
As a result of this development, the Jets were originally slated to host a pair of games at home (Jan. 8 vs. SEA, Jan. 10 vs. MIN) before travelling to Detroit for Thursday’s matchup against the Red Wings.
Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.
So after being handed an embarrassing 7-1 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 6, Winnipeg’s next chance to redeem itself won’t come until a week later. In turn, this team will have six days in between games, allowing for plenty of practices during that span.
Luckily, the Jets have already experienced what it’s like to go without a single game for an extended time, which saw them endure a two-week holiday break before taking on the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 2. With that in mind, interim coach Dave Lowry plans to use a similar mindset during this hiatus in hopes of avoiding a rusty performance when his club returns to action.
“We knew that going into Vegas there was going to be rust,” Lowry explained. “The one thing we can take away from that is our preparation. We’re going to have to make sure that we’re prepared to start on time, we’re prepared to play the game the right way, especially early, and not fuel Detroit’s transition game.
“When we did that early in Vegas, [we] got pucks to the goal line, it allowed us to get our legs [going].”
Considering Detroit has allowed the fifth-most goals (34) in the first period this season, according to NHL.com, there’s no question starting strong out of the gate during this matchup should prove to be extremely crucial.
One factor that could help Winnipeg accomplish that feat, might be receiving two skaters from the NHL’s COVID-19 list, in forward Jansen Harkins and defenceman Dylan DeMelo. Assuming both players receive clearance from team doctors well before Thursday, there’s a fairly good chance they’ll each be available next game.
Having said that, Lowry intends to put each skater in the best position possible, and rightly so, especially since both Harkins and DeMelo have been in isolation since Jan. 6.
“We have to make sure that, number one, we put the athlete in a position to be successful,” Lowry mentioned. “If they haven’t done anything for a week, we’re probably not putting them in a good position. Hopefully they can get out of protocol, they can get on the ice a couple days, and we can have them available.”
Just over three weeks into Lowry’s tenure as interim head coach, there’s certainly been no shortage of pressure for the 56-year-old, who’s had his skaters focused on their net-front presence – both offensively and defensively – while also enduring unfortunate schedule stoppages and line-up juggling due to injuries and COVID-related absences.
Suffice to say, it’s been anything but an easy transition for the former 19-year NHLer, and yet, his team has performed to a 3-2-0 record – including a three-game winning streak – since he took over behind the bench on Dec. 17.
With 49 games remaining in the regular season, there’s still plenty of time left for the Jets, who currently sit fifth in the Central Division, to climb back into the playoff race before time runs out. But so far, Lowry remains extremely appreciative of this head coaching opportunity and couldn’t be happier about working with some of the top performers in the sport.
“I love the challenge of finding ways to win hockey games and preparing a team.” Lowry detailed. “It’s a great opportunity to work with the best players in the world and it’s something that everybody at this level enjoys.”