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Jets’ Scheifele, Connor take accountability after benching: ‘It’s about work ethic’

WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele confesses to being pissed off and not wanting to provide any click bait.

Kyle Connor was feeling some emotions of his own and was happy to have a few days to collect his thoughts before sharing them publicly.

But as far as the recent benching for two of the Winnipeg Jets‘ star players go, the issue has been dealt with and it’s not going to be something that becomes an issue for either Scheifele or Connor as the focus shifts back to a playoff push.

“Pissed off. No one ever wants to get benched,” said Scheifele, asked about his feelings at the time. “So, I’ve just got to be better tonight.”

As for why Scheifele didn’t speak to members of the media on Tuesday after the benching, this could fall under the category of — if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

“I just didn’t want to,” said Scheifele, who was asked to expand on that subject in a follow-up question. “I was pissed off. I didn’t want to say something that you guys get some click bait from. I just didn’t want to.”

Accountability was a hot button topic going into the season and as an alternate captain, offering a few thoughts about the need to be better after Tuesday’s game probably would have been enough for the subject to be put to bed.

Instead, the conversation continued for two more days and now one of the narratives revolves around whether or not there will be any lasting residue.

Clearly, Scheifele’s focus was on returning to form, not on whether or not this benching angle takes on a life of its own.

“I have no idea. You guys are the journalists. You guys get to write whatever you guys want to write about,” said Scheifele. “You guys will do that and try to get views. That’s the name of the game.”

Scheifele, Connor and Nino Niederreiter took a seat for the final 11:45 of the second period of Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The trio hadn’t generated a single shot attempt and were on for all three goals against as the Jets fell behind 3-1.

Jets head coach Rick Bowness was clearly sending a message to his top line and it’s safe to say that message was received.

“It’s about work ethic. Just coming back to your roots and playing your game,” said Connor. “Whether it’s worthy of a benching or not in that period, it’s what the coach decided. It sucks because you’re not able to get back into the game and help the team. You’re sitting there pretty cold and I think he’s just trying to send a message to us that it’s unacceptable. We know that. We’re aware of it. We’ve played a lot of games in this league, we know what it looks like when we’re playing the right way.

“We’re motivated. We’re all in this together. We want to win the Stanley Cup here. There’s no pointing fingers or blame. It’s coming together and trying to work hard and (working) on everybody’s game and trying to take it to the next level.”

As for what was going through his mind at the time of the benching, Connor was looking for ways to get himself back on track.

“Trying to find someway to contribute, knowing that it’s not your night and be a good teammate and trying to stay positive,” said Connor. “Yeah, it’s difficult. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to be out there helping your team win but it wasn’t going our way.

“It’s something that probably happens in everybody’s life, obviously in pro sports. But you’ve got to go out and accept the challenge and my mentality, if I ever have a bad game or I don’t like the way that I’ve played, is to work twice as hard. Come back and work twice as hard. (Take) extra reps…It was just one of those nights.”

Connor leads the Jets in scoring, but has only one goal in his previous 11 games going into Thursday’s tilt with the league-leading Boston Bruins.

He doesn’t expect this dry spell to last much longer.

“Keep playing the way I know I can. Don’t shy away from taking shots. Don’t change my game. It’s a matter of time,” said Connor, who has 27 goals and 73 points in 68 games. “I had a breakaway in Tampa. Obviously pissed I don’t score on that. I’ve had other chances here and there. You start (worrying) when you don’t get chances, you start looking at ways to create more. Sometimes that’s not the right answer, it’s just being a little simpler.”

Bowness said on Thursday morning that his original plan was to just skip the line for a few rotations, but since the other three lines were rolling, he waited until the third period to send them back over the boards.

He had a meeting with Scheifele, Connor and Niederreiter and considers the issue to be in the rearview mirror.

“I wouldn’t say they were benched. We took a couple shifts away from them. If they were benched they wouldn’t have played the rest of the game,” said Bowness. “They’re proud guys. I know they’re very proud guys. You know they’re not going to hang their heads and sulk. Some guys will miss a couple shifts and it bothers them. I knew those two would respond, and Nino.

“Clearly, things weren’t going their way that night. The message is regroup on the bench and be ready to go next time your name is called, which they were in the third period. You’re sitting there, you’re mad, you’re not playing, I get it. That’s all part of it. The message is clearly we have to pick this up a little bit, and we have to respond. We got a better response in the third. Like I said, they’re pros, they’re men, they have a lot of pride. The top guys carry your team in the playoffs. That’s what the top guys’ job is, to carry us into the playoffs. We’re confident they’ll do that.”

The Jets will welcome back defenceman Josh Morrissey to the lineup after he missed two games with a lower body injury, but centre Pierre-Luc Dubois will sit out at least one more game with an upper-body issue he suffered in a game against the San Jose Sharks last Monday.

Bowness said on Thursday morning that veteran forward Sam Gagner has been dealing with hip issues and he will be out for the rest of the season after opting for surgery.

Here’s how the Jets are expected to start tonight against the Bruins, who will start Jeremy Swayman in goal:

Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Nino Niederreiter

Nikolaj Ehlers-Vladislav Namestnikov-Blake Wheeler

Morgan Barron-Adam Lowry-Mason Appleton

David Gustasson-Kevin Stenlund-Saku Maenanalen

Josh Morrissey-Dylan DeMelo

Brenden Dillon-Neal Pionk

Dylan Samberg-Nate Schmidt

Connor Hellebyck

David Rittich


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