Some positives in pair of road losses
Hot goalies and weak special teams keep Jets out of win column
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $19.00 every four weeks. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled anytime.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2021 (443 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
VANCOUVER — The Winnipeg Jets hit the road last week for a two-game road trip through Edmonton and Vancouver having found the blueprint on how they want to play.
The Jets went 5-1-1 on a season-long, seven-game homestand before games against the Oilers and Canucks on back-to-back nights. During that stretch at Canada Life Centre, Winnipeg played physical and disciplined hockey, capping off the two-week run with a convincing 5-2 victory over the Oilers.
On the road, the Jets weren’t as successful from a standings point-of-view, earning just one of a possible four points thanks to a 2-1 shootout loss in Edmonton Thursday night. Playing 24 hours later in Vancouver, the Jets trailed by two goals after 40 minutes and despite a valiant push at the end, fell just short of the comeback, losing 3-2 to the Canucks.
The Jets entered the trip atop the Central Division, but now see themselves in a tie with the Minnesota Wild, at 22 points, with the Wild holding a game in hand. St. Louis (20) and Nashville (19) are close behind and also have a game on the Jets.
“You’re going to have an aberration where you’re really not going to like your game at all, but I didn’t feel that way,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said after the loss to the Canucks.
“The last regulation loss we had (to the New York Islanders), it was on a back-to-back as well. It was just okay. I thought we were better tonight. The last game we maybe didn’t like was the loss to San Jose (Oct. 30), so it’s been a while.”
With that, here are five takeaways from the Jets recent road trip.
1. Despite the Jets only earning one point in the shootout loss to the Oilers, I viewed Thursday as one of their best — and certainly the most enjoyable to watch — games this season. And that’s with the full realization the Jets defeated the same team two days earlier, in a game in which the Oilers were hardly competitive.
The thing is, the Oilers weren’t the same team earlier in the week. By the time they arrived in Winnipeg, they had played four road games in six days. Meanwhile, Winnipeg spent two weeks sleeping in their own beds, with two days off game action before puck drop on Tuesday.
It was a more equally balanced game on Thursday, a tight checking affair perfectly complemented by stellar goaltending. There was plenty of angst, including a spirited fight between Logan Stanley and Zack Kassian, and little ice afforded to each team.
The Jets know how they must play the Oilers — and, more specifically, how to shut down Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — and they’ve shown that twice this week. Feels pretty safe to assume we can kiss goodbye those high-scoring, track meet games we’ve been used to between the Jets and Oilers.
2. That’s not to suggest the Jets get a free pass in this one, or that despite playing a solid game against Edmonton there weren’t notable issues.
The Jets power play had been humming after the first two games of the season, with Winnipeg registering nine goals on the man-advantage in eight games between Oct. 19 and Nov. 5. Since then, however, the Jets have just one power-play goal in their last seven. In fact, they didn’t even draw a penalty against the Canucks.
In Edmonton, the Jets went 0-for-5 on the power play, including a four-minute high-sticking penalty against McDavid with 44 seconds remaining in the third period. A team with this much scoring power has to cash in when they have more than three minutes at 4-on-3 in overtime, even if Stuart Skinner, the Oilers young goaltender, is playing out-of-his-skates good.
3. The Jets struggles on the penalty kill have been a constant story all season and it was once again top of mind following the loss to the Canucks.
Vancouver went 2-for-3 on the man-advantage, scoring on their first two opportunities. Maurice and centre Adam Lowry, one of the Jets’ go-to penalty killers, defended the unit’s play of late. Maurice noted the dismal numbers — Winnipeg has allowed 17 goals on 47 attempts, for an NHL-worst 68.2 per cent success rate — have a lot to do with a horrible start to the year.
That’s true, for the most part. The Jets allowed two relatively meaningless power-play goals to Edmonton on Tuesday but, prior to the game against the Canucks, they had surrendered just one other power-play goal in their last seven games.
Still, there’s no doubt the Jets lost because of their penalty kill, and against a Canucks team that ranked 27th in the NHL on the PP, and 28th on home ice.
4. Maurice is known to put his forward lines in a blender, but this year he’s taken it to an entirely new level.
Part of that had been circumstance, given the number of injuries the Jets have had, and a COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele for more than two weeks. But I get the feeling the top six is going to remain in its current form for some time.
As its currently constructed, Pierre-Luc Dubois is between Kyle Connor and Wheeler, while Scheifele is playing with Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp. Considering the great chemistry between Dubois and Connor, I asked Maurice this week it he would be less reluctant to make a change — or, at the very least, give that line a longer leash than maybe he would have in the past.
I found Maurice’s comments to be interesting. He said there wasn’t a big enough sample size to get all the answers he wanted from the Dubois line but added he would let them ride through a rough patch so long as it didn’t last for weeks.
That bodes well for those who want to see Scheifele play more often with Ehlers. There might be one exception, and that’s whether Wheeler stays put on a line with Dubois and Connor.
Evgeny Svechnikov was holding down the right wing before Tuesday’s game against the Oilers, when Wheeler jumped from the third line to take his spot. With Paul Stastny expected to return soon from a bone bruise in his foot, some lineup decisions will need to be made.
5. It’s becoming harder and harder to come up with different ways to express how important goalie Connor Hellebuyck is to the Jets.
His 31-save performance against the Oilers, despite the result, was his best game of the season. And while he couldn’t completely shut down McDavid – if you haven’t seen McDavid’s goal-of-the-year candidate against the Jets, go look it up — he came very close.
After a slow start to the season — plagued, in part, by some bad puck luck — Hellebuyck has been nothing short of stellar between the pipes, giving his team a chance to win every night. He’s 6-0-4 in his last 10 starts and in seven of those games has allowed two goals or fewer and boasted a save percentage north of .930.
Eric Comrie got the start against the Canucks, making 26 saves in the loss. He’s now lost two games in a row after winning his first three.
You can’t put Friday’s game on Comrie, but you also can’t help but think Hellebuyck would have been able to make a stop on one of those first two goals through traffic in front. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed from Hellebuyck this season, is his improved ability to use all his 6-4, 207-pound frame to battle at the top of his crease.
If Hellebuyck can continue his consistent play, at a time the Jets are also finding their game, there’s no reason to think Winnipeg won’t live up to their billing as Stanley Cup contenders.
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.