Winnipeg Jets like flying under the radar as best NHL team in Canada

Winnipeg Jets like flying under the radar as best NHL team in Canada

WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele doesn’t care if the Winnipeg Jets aren’t big news in Canadian hockey circles.

While a lot headlines this season have focused on the success of Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs or the plight of Connor McDavid and the lowly Edmonton Oilers, the Jets have quietly climbed up the NHL standings.

Winnipeg (17-6-4) moved into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference with Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators. Their 38 points give them a two point advantage on the St. Louis Blues (17-8-2).

“If we’re getting points in games or we’re winning games that’s all that matters to us,” Scheifele said. “We don’t care if we get attention, we don’t care if we get accolades because of it. They can take all the media attention and we’ll continue to work on our game and try to be the best team we can be.”

The Kitchener, Ont., native had a goal and an assist against Ottawa, giving him the team lead in goals with 14 and 34 points.

Winnipeg’s win over the Senators also extended its winning streak at Bell MTS Place to six games, where they’ve gone 10-2-1.

Winnipeg, which has only made the playoffs once in six seasons since relocating from Atlanta in 2011, didn’t open this campaign on a high note.

It lost its first two games against Toronto and Calgary, but hasn’t been defeated twice in a row in regulation since then. There was a pair of overtime losses in late October.

“Not a lot of people were talking about us before the season started,” said veteran centre Bryan Little, who hails from Edmonton.

“Maybe people still aren’t talking that much about us, but I don’t think we mind that kind of flying under the radar. If we can surprise a few people, that’s all right with us.”

Veteran forward Mathieu Perreault said it comes with the territory that teams such as the Leafs get more headlines because they’re in bigger markets, but he thinks the Jets are beginning to turn some heads.

“I was watching TV (Friday night) and they were talking about the fact that we’re first in the conference now,” the native of Drummondville, Que., said. “They’re talking about us being one of the best teams in the league so I think we’re starting to catch people’s attention a lot more.”

Consistent, strong play from goalie Connor Hellebuyck (15-2-3) has helped push the Jets up the standings, but so has a more balanced attack.

Perreault has been a catalyst for a fourth line that’s producing. After missing 12 games with an injury, he returned to the lineup Nov. 16 and was put alongside veteran newcomer Matt Hendricks and hard-working Finnish winger Joel Armia.

The trio has scored goals — five for Perreault — and their teammates and head coach Paul Maurice have praised their energy and ability to create offence.

“Goaltending has been a big part of it,” Perreault said of the team’s success. “There’s been some big saves at key moments in important games and we have the depth.

“Right now I’m playing on the fourth line and we’ve been able to score every other night, if not every night, so that takes a lot of pressure off of your top players.

“And they’ve producing like crazy, too. When you get four lines that score every other night, most times you’re going to win games.”

Yet the players know anything can happen so they’ll enjoy their high ranking for now and try to build on it.

“It’s kind of new territory for a lot of us, but it’s not like we’re patting ourselves on the back in there,” Little said.

“We’re confident and we’re having fun, but we know there’s a lot of hockey left.”