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Jets aren’t sounding alarms after tough stretch – Toronto Sun

Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness (right) listens to referee Tom Chmielewski (18) during the second period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.
Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness (right) listens to referee Tom Chmielewski (18) during the second period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Photo by Charles LeClaire /USA TODAY Sports

For Rick Bowness, he and his coaching staff have left no stone unturned when it comes to rest and recovery for his players.

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Given a brutal stretch of games, including a slate of eight-of-nine that was played on what was essentially a two-week road trip, it’s not difficult to understand the challenges the Winnipeg Jets head coach has had to navigate over the past few weeks and the last two months when you zoom out.

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The Jets played 16 games in December alone. There are 31 days in the month, but there was also a three-day Christmas break baked into the schedule, meaning those 16 games were played in 28 days.

January hasn’t loosened the tight scheduling grip much either, with 15 games in 29 days before an 11-day break for the All-Star Break and the team’s bye week that follows.

But as Bowness outlined on Friday, the day after his team put up a stinker at home in a 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, it’s their reality at the moment.

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And as much as they try and play all four lines and watch the team’s shift lengths and find as much rest as possible to address the challenges, there’s a limit.

“There still comes a point where the body and the mind becomes a little tired and that’s when you start making the mistakes that we are,” the 68-year-old said.

The last thing you want to do is offer a team an excuse for its poor play, but sometimes the fact is just that — it’s a legitimate explanation right now.

The lack of rest and recovery impacts myriad facets of a team.

You might, for instance, prefer to practice on a certain day, but it has to be weighed against the benefits of allowing the players to kick their feet up.

But does banging practice also curtail the chance to work through systemic issues that may have cropped up over a period of time? And are those systemic issues systemic at all? Or are they the byproduct of a team trying to wrestle with its fatigue?

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“It’s a little bit of both, for sure, because the rest factor makes the systems and everything work a lot better, a lot quicker,” Bowness said. “I’ve been in the league a long time, but this is a grind. This is new for me, too. I’m learning a lot about playing out of Winnipeg again with 32 teams.

For Bowness, whose career behind the bench has touched the past five decades, there are still areas where he has to learn.

On Friday, he spoke of the evolution of travel, and the scarcity of practice time that comes with a condensed schedule.

“But then again, you learn to live with it, you learn to find solutions through all of that,” he said. “That’s what (for me) as the head coach, I’ve got to find better solutions for the guys. That’s on me, as well. Learning this location in the league and the travel that comes and the condensed schedule, it’s been an eye-opener.

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“It’s a daily challenge.”

There’s a human element to this as well, as Blake Wheeler spoke about after Friday’s practice at Canada Life Centre.

Players have families back home, children they’d seen only briefly in the past couple of weeks.

“There’s definitely a wear and tear factor, that the guys have been through a pretty rigorous schedule here in December and January, and certainly with the travel in January,” Wheeler said. “I think there’s that element of it, for sure.”

Winnipeg’s game has been predicated on their aggression this season. It’s what helped them to the top steps of the Central Division and the Western Conference.

But that aggression, Wheeler admitted, has turned into passivity as of late.

“We’re just not moving. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “And when we’re not moving, all of a sudden those plays, you’re seeing them, but they’re not quite happening at the same rate they would when you’re in motion. It’s just a lack of aggressiveness all over the ice. And I think the plays that are being turned over right now are plays that we’ve been making all year.”

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The margins are so fine.

To recapture their form, Bowness sat down with his players on Friday to figure out what they were seeing.

Winnipeg’s defiant confidence hasn’t been there, along with the swagger that came with stacking wins.

But as bad as it may seem from the outside looking in, especially when the team has lost four of its last six after winning eight of nine prior, no one is pressing the panic button.

“It feels like we’re sounding the alarm here a little bit. I don’t think that’s the case,” Josh Morrissey said. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose multiple games in a row and, looking at the last stretch with that road trip, you know, coming out under .500 on the road trip (2-3-0), but… I think that we’re still doing a lot of good things.”

Some have postulated that Winnipeg just needs to get to its 11-day break, a window to snap out of the funk and refocus the mind.

Is the fix that simple?

The last few words go to the head coach.

“We’re going to find out.”

Twitter: @scottbilleck