Paul Maurice has gone to the coaching manual a few times this season.
The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets has tried a number of things to get his inconsistent club to respond over the last few months, from changing up the lines to giving the team a day away from the rink to even suggesting some players just aren't up to the challenge emotionally.
Wednesday's message—skating his players a little harder after a dud effort against Carolina Tuesday—was met with a tepid response at the start of Thursday's game with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fortunately, Maurice found another trick in his coaching bag: getting tossed from a game.
Hey, it helped the Jets earn a point.
Maurice was ejected from the 6-5 shootout loss to the Lightning Thursday night, after getting into an ill-timed staring competition (and sharing a few choice words) with referee Francois St. Laurent prior to the third period.
The reason for Maurice's anger: a pair of hits from Lightning defenceman Anton Stralman on Nikolaj Ehlers and Brian Little in the second period. The open-ice hit on Little was especially egregious in Maurice's eyes, as Stralman did not let up once he committed to the hit after it was apparent Little was off-balance and already going down to the ice. Stralman connected with Little's head and there was no penalty on the play—an unacceptable combination in today's NHL.
Little had to be helped off the ice. He did not return to the game.
Maurice did not hide his displeasure with this sequence of events, and tore into St. Laurent something so fierce that probably it caused a few professional lip-readers to blush. The Jets coach took a minor penalty in the exchange, which no doubt carried over into the game ejection.
Maurice is no dummy. He came out of the tunnel to start the period red-hot, and looked for St. Laurent immediately. Is it up the official to protect Maurice from himself and turn his back? No, it's not. Maurice was looking to get thrown out and St Laurent happily obliged.
As for the update on Little's health after the game, there wasn't much of one. Little did get X-rays on his neck, the Jets coach told reporters afterward. There was no other update on Little's status or if he would be available to play in Saturday's game against the Florida Panthers.
Even though Maurice may have learned something from his team Thursday, it doesn't mask the overall picture.
The Jets, coming off a terrible game in North Carolina, spotted the Lightning a 3-0 lead in the first period and while they did catch up on the scoreboard (at one point they even took a 5-4 advantage in the third), it was just window dressing in one game out of the first 57 this year.
Big picture-wise, the Jets simply haven't been able to find a consistent effort of a full 60 minutes, over a full week of games, over an entire month—and it has to be wearing on the coach.
The Jets (25-28-4, 54 points) are 10 points back of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference, with four teams in-between themselves and the playoff line. Winnipeg has 25 games left. Time is running out.
For Maurice, there have been no answers. He's been unable to push the right buttons with this group, and he, like the general manager who put this roster together, know they wear some of disappointment this season.
So Maurice blew off some steam in a big way Thursday. Was it because of the hit on Little? Was it from St. Laurent's assessment of the play? Was it because his club dug themselves a big hole with two-thirds of the game left?
Or was it a culmination of how this season has played out to this point?
Best guess: all of the above.