We can play better: Dubois

Jets ponder missed opportunities of five-game road swing


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NASHVILLE — It was the longest stretch away from home for the Winnipeg Jets in their 82-game regular season.

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NASHVILLE — It was the longest stretch away from home for the Winnipeg Jets in their 82-game regular season.

Over the span of eight days, the Jets visited five cities, jumping between two time zones, with back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday mixed in the middle. In the end, it turned out to be a disappointing road trip, with the Jets claiming just two wins compared to three losses and four of a possible 10 points.

The trip began with a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, followed by another defeat, this time to the Toronto Maple Leafs, by the exact same score. The Jets would right the ship in their next two games, dominating the Ottawa Senators, 5-1 on Saturday, before earning a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers the following night.

Winnipeg had a chance to end on a high note, but it couldn’t hold onto an early lead, as the Nashville Predators took full advantage of a tired group. The game ended in a 2-1 loss, with the Jets hitting two posts in the final 90 seconds.

“It’s disappointing going 2-3. We want to keep building that gap between us and other teams,” Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois told the Free Press after the loss to the Predators. “We had a good first half of the season, both standings-wise and with how we were playing. This road trip kinda feels like a little slide down, but there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played and we can play better. We know it.”

The Jets return home for a three-game homestand at Canada Life Centre before a week off for the NHL all-star break. Before we look too far ahead, let’s take a look back, identifying some takeaways from the five-game road trip.

1) Jets head coach Rick Bowness viewed the loss to the Canadiens as a wakeup call for his team. Players were noticeably peeved after the game, knowing they let one slip away against a beatable Montreal club that sits second-last in the Eastern Conference.

The Jets bench boss noted after the loss to the Leafs that he felt like it was a step in the right direction. Bowness went as far as saying the Jets could have won that game had it not been for some glaring self-inflicted wounds, including some costly giveaways in the neutral zone that ended with the puck in the back of their net.

Strong special teams was the story in the win over the Senators, with the Jets scoring twice on the power play and killing off all four penalties against an Ottawa unit that entered the game with the league’s third-best PP. Those same special teams, in the words of Bowness, had an off night against the Flyers, but the Jets were able to find some offence from deeper down the depth chart, with the third and fourth line scoring late to seal the win.

It was a goalie’s duel in Nashville, pitting arguably the NHL’s top two netminders in Connor Hellebuyck and Juuse Saros agaisnt one another. The Jets were able to get one by Saros just 48 seconds into the game, but would come up dry the rest of the way despite generating several more quality scoring chances; meanwhile, Hellebuyck was simply incredible, making 39 saves in a losing effort.

2) The Jets appear to have their answer in Cole Perfetti for who should play right wing on the top line alongside Dubois and Kyle Connor.

The trio spent time together last year and appeared to be coming into their own before Peretti suffered a shoulder injury that derailed his season. Bowness put them back together for the first time this year against Ottawa and in those three games, Perfetti had a goal — snapping a 15-game drought — and two primary assists.

“He’s smart, he’s skilled, he can pass, he can shoot,” said Dubois of Perfetti. “He’s a great player, just developing and still learning a lot. We’re really excited to see what the future has for him.”

Perfetti started the year on a line with Dubois and Wheeler for 16 of the first 17 games. Then Bowness united Connor and Dubois and they’ve been together ever since — a stretch of 30 games that saw them play with eight different linemates before Perfetti got his shot.

3) While the Jets got offensive contributions from their third and fourth lines in the win over the Flyers, secondary scoring remains a significant issue. In fact, it’s been borderline non-existent, even before this trip.

Saku Maenalanen hasn’t registered a point in eight games since returning from injury. Adam Lowry has been able to generate several scoring opportunities but has now gone 22 games without a goal.

Karson Khulman had the game-winner in Philadelphia, but that was just his second goal in 19 games with the Jets, with the other an empty-netter. It’s much of the same story for Morgan Barron, Kevin Stenlund, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Sam Gagner, a group that has combined for just 11 points (7G, 4A) in 50 games.

It’s up to the Jets best and highest-paid players to provide the offence on a consistent basis, and the aforementioned depth players have certainly provided value in other ways. Life would be a lot easier if the Jets bottom-six was chipping in a little more often.

4) It wasn’t all bad news for the Jets. While they might not have made the push they hoped for, Winnipeg still remains in solid position in the standings.

The Jets entered Wednesday’s action one point behind the Dallas Stars for first place in the Central Division and Western Conference, boasting a record of 31-17-1.

They have an eight-point lead on the Colorado Avalanche, who are making a quick push in the standings, having won their last six games and with three games in hand on Winnipeg.

The Jets have got a little help from their friends in the Central. The Minnesota Wild (25-17-4) have lost their last three games, while the St. Louis Blues (23-22-3) have also struggled, losing three of their last five games.

“We were tired, that’s a long trip. It’s no excuse, but it’s definitely tiring and it takes a toll on the body,” said Perfetti. “We’re happy with our performance, obviously we want better results, but we put the effort in and worked really hard. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”


Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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