Record: 52 – 20 – 10
The Winnipeg Jets have some serious work to do.
Scanning social media after Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Golden Knights, which gives Vegas a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Final, its appears Jets fans have had their confidence shaken a bit. The cliff-jumpers are going a bit far, in my opinion.
There were bad signs, however, before the game even started.
Nikolaj Ehlers surprisingly was ruled out, and fourth-liner Brandon Tanev was inserted in his place alongside Paul Stastny and Patrik Laine.
I can only guess that it is his similar speed to Ehlers, combined with fore-checking ability, that influenced head coach Paul Maurice’s decision to insert him there. But it would seem a player with more offensive skills, such as Mathieu Perreault, would be a better replacement.
It didn’t get any better, as 35 seconds into the game Jonathan Marchessault continued his goal assault to put the Golden Knights ahead 1-0.
Things calmed down, and the Jets escaped the first frame in decent shape, despite being outplayed while mustering just three shots on net.
The second frame started well, with Mark Scheifele tying it up. But 12 seconds later, James Neal put Vegas back on top, showing the Jets yet again why they can’t let up for any shift against this Golden Knights squad.
Winnipeg gave up another goal in the second, but played a strong period overall.
With the Golden Knights playing that prevent defence I hate so much, there was a huge push from the Jets in the third, with Scheifele getting the Jets within one, before a late empty-netter sealed it for Vegas.
Their pushback wasn’t enough, but there are a number of ways Winnipeg can jump right back in this series. After all, the Jets jumped out to a 3-0 lead and cruised to a 4-1 win in Game 1, even though neither team was firing on all cylinders.
Expecting a better Game 2 from both teams, it was Vegas grabbing a 2-0 lead and being full value for the win.
I said this before the series, but it bears repeating — the way the Golden Knights use their speed, combined with extraordinarily quick puck movement, make them worthy adversaries of the Jets. We’ve seen similar teams cause Winnipeg trouble at times throughout the year, but Vegas does it better than the rest.
However, the Jets are capable of the same type of play, and have the edge in overall talent.
The reality might be that each team is facing their biggest nemesis — if either falters a bit off their best speed-driven performance, they’re in trouble.
As we head into Game 4, there’s a huge question to be answered.
How can the Jets start the contest with better puck movement against the expected heavy pressure from Vegas?
It’s too easy to just say they need to manage the puck better, as glaring turnovers have made a huge difference thus far. Better support of the puck and teammates is critical, and I’m sure the coaching staff is working diligently to come up with options to take advantage of the open ice that is available.
Those windows of opportunity close quickly, though, so making all the correct reads at an extremely fast pace is the biggest challenge.
Establishing the type of hard forecheck and offensive-zone cycling that we’re used to seeing when Winnipeg’s at its best is the greatest defence there is. Easier said than done.
I imagine the Golden Knights have changed some non-believers’ minds as to how good they actually are.
We can talk until we’re blue in the face about playing better as a team in all three zones, but we need to recognize that individual production from some additional players has to appear — and soon.
Scheifele’s 14 goals in the playoffs are incredible, but asking one or two players to carry the load won’t get it done. While Marc-André Fleury absolutely robbed him of a hat trick with a couple of diving saves Wednesday, it’s too much to ask of anyone.
Speaking of Fleury, even if the Jets can find a way to break the hard pressure of Vegas, they still need to crack the last line of defence. With his terrific athleticism, he’s going to make those highlight-reel saves, but he also leaves himself vulnerable at times with his style.
I’d like to see the Jets try to take more shots that just miss the net, but carom off the boards in front, and get him spinning around. Call it a bank pass, if you will. Create some havoc, look to pounce and maybe get a greasy goal or two.
Highlight-reel goals can be hard to come by when you play a team as disciplined as the Golden Knights are.
During its infrequent tough times this season, Winnipeg was able to call on its depth of talent to bail the team out and get back on a roll.
While there are certainly players that look like they might be squeezing their sticks too tightly, it only takes a good bounce to get a player’s confidence back.
The Jets’ resilience throughout the year will serve them well here, and I find no reason to back off my series prediction of a Jets win.
I am a little apprehensive about it, though.
Chosen ninth overall by the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.
Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.