December 9, 2019

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Opinion

Time for Scheifele, stars to shine

Jets' troubles begin with stagnant top line

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele practices at Mosaic Stadium in Regina last Friday prior to the Heritage Classic against the Calgary Flames. The Jets number one centre has just one point in his last five games.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele practices at Mosaic Stadium in Regina last Friday prior to the Heritage Classic against the Calgary Flames. The Jets number one centre has just one point in his last five games.

SAN JOSE — Three weeks ago in Chicago, Mark Scheifele scored in overtime to give the Winnipeg Jets a third straight victory to improve to a rather surprising 4-2-0 on the young season.

Scheifele was off to a great start as well, with nine points in the first six games to sit among the NHL offensive leaders. In fact, head coach Paul Maurice said his No. 1 centre was competing as hard as he'd ever seen in a regular-season game.

I suspect both the player, and the team, wish they could turn back time. Because since then, it's been mostly downhill for Scheifele and the Jets. Winnipeg entered play Friday night in San Jose 2-5-0 since, and Scheifele had just four points in those seven contests — one in the last five.

That, folks, is a big problem. If Winnipeg is to do anything of substance this season, they need their big dogs to be at their best most nights. A good outing against the Sharks would be a big first step. As would following it up with another strong showing Saturday in Las Vegas.

"I would say he’s just like our team, there’s big chunks of his game that you like a lot of, and then there’s chunks that you’re looking for improvement," Maurice told me Friday when I asked what Scheifele needed to change to get back on track.

There are still flashes, for sure, such as a play Scheifele made last Saturday in Regina to help set up the tying goal for the Jets in the dying minutes of the third period against the Calgary Flames.

"He had phenomenal puck recovery on that power play that led to the goal. So glimpses of it there," said Maurice.

But the key is consistency, something that is lacking in the early going.

To be fair, the 26-year-old Scheifele is hardly alone. His right-hand man, captain Blake Wheeler, has just one point in his last seven games prior to puck drop Friday night. Kyle Connor had just three points over that same span.

Add it up and the Scheifele-Wheeler-Connor trio had a combined eight points over seven games, which is definitely not good enough for a top line in the NHL. Heck, those three are capable of putting up an eight-point night in one solid, 60-minute effort.

And with a lineup that's been somewhat depleted this week with an injury to Patrik Laine and a suspension to Adam Lowry, the Jets could use a return to form from that group as quickly as possible.

A big part of the lack of production is the struggling power play, which limped into action Friday night at just 15.6 per cent, 23rd-overall in the NHL. Maurice said that's leading to some frustration among the usual point producers. Wheeler, for example, doesn't have a single power-play point this year.

"Especially after their start, they had a couple of big-number nights. And more, probably, importantly is the pressure that comes when we’re not scoring five-on-five, our power play’s not going right, they want to do more," said Maurice.

Connor is a perfect example. If you look at his final numbers from Tuesday's 7-4 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, you'd assume he had a strong night, with nine shots on goal. But where some of us might see a player getting lots of offensive chances, Maurice saw a young man trying to do too much.

"I’d like him to relax a little bit with the puck," Maurice said this week.

"You see it with young guys, or anybody for that matter, they get a new contract. He’s a good man, he wants to produce, right. And when you’re not scoring, you start to change your routes a little bit, you start to change what you do. Kyle’s one of those unusual players that didn’t see a lot of video when he first came into the NHL, because he just didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Usually with those kids you’ve got to show them. Positionally, he’s always been really good. So I’d just like to see him do that, and relax. He’s going to score."

Perhaps relaxation can get everyone back on track. The Jets have had plenty of time for that over the past week. After playing the Heritage Classic in Regina, they enjoyed a day of golf Sunday in southern California, followed by a practice Monday. After Tuesday's game in Anaheim, they had another full day off on Wednesday to do some sight-seeing in the Bay Area. That was followed by another practice on Thursday.

"It’s been good to have a couple off days mixed in. Kinda get away from the rink, get together as a team, enjoy some nice weather around here, so that’s been good. We kinda needed a couple practice days, which have been useful as well," Jets centre Andrew Copp said Friday morning.

The talent is obviously still here with this group, even if it's been somewhat depleted. The most important thing, according to Copp, is maximizing it on a nightly basis.

"For us it’s just playing fast, making sure we’re driving our legs. And things usually happen off that, seams open up off us playing fast. And as soon as we start to slow ourselves down we’re trying to force things and that’s when turnovers happen," said Copp.

As for the constant lineup shuffling and less-than-stellar results to date, Copp said there's no "woe is us" attitude around the team.

"You can’t really think like that. It’s a good opportunity for us to show next man up and show our depth, show that even when we’re missing some guys we can continue to play at a high level," said Copp.

So far, the Jets haven't shown that as often as they'd like. And if stars such as Scheifele don't come out to shine, there's going to be plenty of dark nights on the horizon.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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