First-place Jets look to stay on top against Senators
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The last time the Winnipeg Jets were in first place a third of the way through the season, their leading scorers were Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg, and they played in the World Hockey Association.
That was 1977-78, nearly two years before the WHA was merged into the NHL, but there are a number of similarities between the two eras, even though they’re 40 years apart.
Both versions play an entertaining brand of hockey based on puck possession, speed and a devastating power play.
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There’s one more element that the WHA Jets had that year that the current Jets hope to copy, even though they’re not saying it publicly — a championship. (The AVCO Cup was the WHA’s holy grail and the Jets won it three times.)
After defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 7-4 on Friday night, the Jets climbed atop the mountain in the Western Division with a record of 16-6-4 and 36 points, one point up on the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Winnipeg hosts the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.
The Jets are 8-0-1 in their last nine at home, but as former coach Claude Noel used to say, the players aren’t dislocating their shoulders patting themselves on the back.
Captain Blake Wheeler attributed the team’s success to not looking too far ahead and dealing with what’s in front of them.
“We’ve used each day of practice to get better, we’ve used each game to try and improve in certain areas,” Wheeler told the Winnipeg Free Press. “I don’t think that we’ve peaked. I think we have a ways to go.
“Our team, we’re learning how to play fast and kind of on the fly, and I think we can play faster. With the way the league is going, that’s an exciting thing. We’re enjoying winning, which is kind of new to our group, but we’re not fitting ourselves for rings or anything like that.”
The Senators come to town on the heels of a 6-5 victory over the New York Islanders on Friday night in Brooklyn — a victory that improved their record to 9-9-6 and halted a seven-game losing streak (0-6-1).
But that’s not what was dominating social media circles Saturday. Instead, it was captain Erik Karlsson’s remarks to reporters Thursday that he won’t take a discount to stay with the only NHL club he has ever known — the Senators drafted him in 2008 — when his contract is up at the end of next season.
“When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth, and it’s going to be no less, no matter where I’m going,” Karlsson told The Ottawa Citizen.
“That’s the business part of it. That’s the way every player has been treated ever since this league has started, and I think the players have been a little bit on the other side of things when it comes to negotiations. I think it’s time to realize that when we go to the table, it’s business on both parts, not just (owners).”