Jets take note of Ducks' prowess

In professional sports, if you’re going to model yourself after another team, you may as well shoot for the stars. Or, in the case of the Winnipeg Jets, make that the Ducks.

After a 4-1 loss to Anaheim Saturday, Jets head coach Paul Maurice was quick to give kudos to his opponent

Anaheim Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf, left, and goalie Frederik Andersen, of Denmark. After Winnipeg's loss to Anaheim on Saturday, Jets head coach Paul Maurice said the Ducks play a game that his team hopes to model themselves after. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

In professional sports, if you’re going to model yourself after another team, you may as well shoot for the stars.

Or, in the case of the Winnipeg Jets, make that the Ducks.

Following a 4-1 loss to Anaheim Saturday — the Jets’ second straight defeat by the Ducks in less than a week — head coach Paul Maurice was quick to give kudos to his opponent, crediting Anaheim on their execution of a style of play he hopes one day could become the norm here in Winnipeg.

“They play a game that in a lot of ways we’re trying to model after,” said Maurice. “The real strength of their team is how hard they are on pucks.”

“It was an absolute sword fight for the puck out there and there was no easy ice to play on,” he added. 

“You don’t have to make a lot of mistakes. They’ve got some finishing power, they skate well and they’re deep.”

Duck dominance

These are just some of the qualities that explain the Ducks’ dominance this season. Through 32 games, Anaheim leads the NHL with 47 points, posting a record of 21-6-5.

Saturday’s win over the Jets marked the seventh consecutive victory for the Ducks. It’s the second time this year Anaheim has won seven straight games. The first time came in October, a month where the Ducks lost just twice in 12 games. They remained unbeaten in November.

“They play the same way every single night,” said Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who finished the game at minus-1 in 20:44 of ice time. “That’s a good team over there. They’re first in the NHL for a reason.”

One perk of generating the kind of success the Ducks have this season is it demands a certain amount of respect from opposing teams — something Wheeler suggested was the Jets’ Achilles heel in the loss.

“We just gave them a little too much respect out there,” he said. “They’re a good skating team. They do a lot of the same things we do and they just did them a little bit better tonight.”

It’s important to note that the Ducks’ impressive run this season hasn’t come without a fair share of adversity. Like many other teams around the league, they too have had to battle with illness — Anaheim is where the NHL’s mumps problem originated — and injuries.

No excuses

Look no further than Corey Perry, the Ducks’ most dynamic scorer.

Perry has missed the last four games, including both tilts against Winnipeg, thanks to a sprained knee he suffered during a game against the Minnesota Wild back on Dec. 5. Before that he missed five games while recovering from the mumps virus.

With Perry out, the Ducks have moved players up and down the lineup to fill the void, and have hardly missed a beat.

In between the pipes they have a superb goalie in Frederik Andersen, a 25-year-old native of Denmark, who had played just 28 games last season before taking over the starting role this year. With a 27-save performance Saturday, Andersen improved to 17-7-4 on the year.

“I’ve been saying it for a couple weeks now,” said Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf, who added to his team-leading 33 points Saturday with a goal and an assist.

“We’ve had guys coming in and out of the lineup — all that stuff is just excuses. We have a deep team.

“Tonight we showed our resilience,” he said.

Staying in the mix

The Jets still have a way to go before they can start claiming a pedigree like that of the Ducks. And only time will tell whether growing pains will translate into anything more than a few good stretches over an 82-game season.

But the foundation is starting to show. The Jets had collected points in eight straight games heading into Saturday, making it the second time they’ve done that this season.

And they too have done it with banged up bodies.

With the absence of Toby Enstrom and Zach Bogosian, the Jets' top defensive pair, Winnipeg has been forced to shuffle the lineup. That included moving Dustin Byfuglien from forward to defence. Call up D-man, Ben Chiarot, has played top-line minutes despite playing just a handful of games in the NHL.

Then there’s backup goalie Michael Hutchinson, who earned just his second regulation-time loss Saturday, in a season where he’s allowed three goals just twice in nine starts. 

And though games like the one against the Ducks are a reminder of the difficulties it will take to topple the best in the west, the Jets have proven they belong. At 15-10-6, Winnipeg remains in the thick of the playoff race, holding on to the eighth and final spot. 

“We’re playing good hockey,” said Wheeler. “You know, tonight that wasn’t us. I think we’ve got better than that but the beauty of it is we’ll get another crack at them some other time.”


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